Tunisia is succeeding where Egypt failed

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. The optimism of the Arab Spring seems to have evaporated in the last few years. Just look at Syria and its brutal civil war, or Egypt, where the 3 year anniversary of the revolution was marked by more violence and where a new military strong man seems to be gaining the upperhand. But then there's Tunisia, the nation where the first rebellion of the Arab Spring began. It just passed a new constitution based on consensus and compromise. Two very different post-revolutionary paths for Tunisia and Egypt.

Borzou Daragahi is based in Cairo but is following both of those nations closely. First of all, Borzou, give us the broad strokes of this new Tunisian constitution. What stands out?

Borzou Daragahi: I think the thing that stands out most above everything else, first of all, is the process by which this constitution was forged. It was done consensually. You had Islamists, liberals, leftists, avowed secularists, supporters of the former regime even, having a hand in the crafting of this document. In terms of its content, it stands out, first of all, for affording very, very decent rights to women, allaying the fears of many Tunisian women. It also maintains Tunisia's status as a secular state. Even though it identifies Tunisia as an Arab and Muslim country, its protection for religious minorities is without a question. It falls short on a few little things as well, but we can get back to that later.

Werman: Not everyone is happy with it. Maybe we can get back to it right now.

Daragahi: For example, I have a friend, Achmed, who is a very, very secular guy and one thing that offended him is that, as an atheist he couldn't president of Tunisia.

Werman: What about the more hard-lined Islamists in Tunisia. Are they happy with this constitution?

Daragahi: They're absolutely not happy with this constitution at all because they had been hoping for the inclusion of Sharia law as the pillar of the constitution and they didn't get that all in the end. As a matter of fact, some of the things that were in earlier drafts, regarding the role of Islam, were curled back and toned down in later drafts and the one that ultimately passed.

Werman: Do you think that some of those Islamists in the Nahda party looked over at Egypt and saw what was happening with their Muslim brotherhood counterparts and said, "We're going to make a conscious decision to find a way to avoid the same problems."

Daragahi: Absolutely. But not only Tunisian Islamists. Even the Tunisian liberals and secularists, after at first being somewhat enthusiastic and embracing what happened in Egypt, became much more wary and much more frightened of the Egyptian experience after it turned into a bloodbath that is still going on.

Werman: Egypt, on the other hand, seems to be going in the other direction. There was news today about general Fattah al-Sisi's political ambitions. He can now run for president. What's going on there?

Daragahi: Well, now he's field marshal. Today he was also promoted from general to field marshal, which is a rather "puffy" title. But there's a real choreographing of the elevation of Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, to the presidency. This is being done by the military and spurred along by elite elements in the business community, especially those with strong ties to the deposed regime of Hosni Mubarak, so you have all these people from that regime promoting this elevation of Sisi as the savior and president of the country in an attempt to bring about a situation that they can control.

Werman: Does that strike you as the kind of setup that will lead Sisi to step down after one or two terms?

Daragahi: I'm not sure. Given the mood on the street, people might vote for him to be dictator for life, given the desperation and the unhappiness, the turbulence - they want stability, stability, stability above all else. There is real scapegoating not just of the Muslim brotherhood but of foreigners, of political dissidence, of leftists. One of the saddest things to see is leftist and liberal political activists thrown into jail and ordinary people cheering the security forces on as they put these people in jail. The private and state owned media are slinging mud and accusations at anyone who is not with the current order. It's a real wave nationalistic, jingoistic conformity washing over Egypt and enveloping it.

Werman: Borzou Daragahi of the Financial Times speaking with us from Cairo. Thank you as always.

Daragahi: It's been a pleasure.

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