CAIRO - I traveled to Tunisia last month to witness the countrys first free elections. As I left Cairo, I had given in to an increasingly shared sense that Egypt had lost its way. I returned to find Egyptians even further engulfed in pessimism about the future.
The Oct. 9 Maspero massacre, which took the lives of more than two dozen Copts, has left many with an overwhelming feeling that the country is moving in a terrible direction, perhaps even to the brink of internal strife. But this does not seem to alarm the generals ruling the country, one of whom said recently in a private meeting that he feared Egypt would go the way of Somalia.
If thats the case, why is the militarys agenda topped by things like the chastity of Egyptian women (who were arrested in March and forced by military police to undergo virginity tests for the first time in Egyptian history)? Meanwhile, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has given a green light for the prosecution of human rights advocates on charges of high treason and harming national security. This, frankly, is shocking.
Contrast this to the public mood in Tunisia. While the people I met there disagreed about many things, all of them were optimistic about the future. From government ministers and media watchdogs to rights activists and trade unionists who led the uprising in the mining belt in Redeyef, all told me their country was moving in the right direction. Post-revolution Tunisia is not perfect, and it will certainly face major challenges in the future. But it is on the right path.
What accounts for this difference in public opinion? Tunisian rights advocate Ridha Raddaoui explained Tunisias progress in simple terms: We were lucky that our army was politically weak.
I believe differences in three factors have distinguished Tunisia from Egypt in the post-revolution period: its army, its Islamists and its political elite.
The Tunisian army played a decisive role in the revolution by refusing to open fire on demonstrators and by stopping police officers who tried to continue the crackdown. But it did not assume control of the country after the departure of Ben Ali: power was immediately transferred to a civilian government.
Tunisias Islamists are newer to politics and less opportunistic and reactionary than their Egyptian counterparts. They adopt political not religious platforms and refrain from making provocative demands, like the application of Islamic law or even special recognition for it in the constitution. Tunisian Islamists have not made it their mission to police Tunisians morals or their private lives. This has made the conflict over identity in Tunisia less polarizing than in Egypt. Thus, Tunisians find it relatively easier to reach a consensus over the future shape of the country, even with the recent victory of the Islamist party Ennahda.
Finally, there is the political acumen of the Tunisian elite, as compared to their Egyptian peers. Although both countries witnessed leaderless revolutions, the Tunisian elite caught on early to the importance of not leaving a political vacuum that could be filled by counter-revolutionary forces. The political elites did not waste their energies on settling scores. Instead, they focused on building institutions, writing a constitution, and adopting legislation that, upon implementation, would address grievances of the past.
In Egypt, by contrast, political elites have wasted their time either seeking retribution against their enemies or cozying up to the military in hopes of sharing power. They are very good at issuing statements and staging demonstrations, but their words and actions have not created any new facts on the ground. Egypts power structure has remained unchanged and the army, which rose to helm of politics six decades ago, is still in charge.
Since 1952, Egypt has only been ruled by leaders from a military background. As a result, the generals that took power after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak are more adept than other political players. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has managed to preserve the old regime, to divide its revolutionary opponents and drain their energies, and to revive the tired old formula of Its either us or the Islamists.
Bahey el-din Hassan is director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Read the full article at Al-Masry Al-Youm
photo - FreedomHouse