lessons from Tunisia?

It’s generally agreed that the Tunisian elections went well – the results have been accepted, as has the moderate Islamist party En-nahda’s new power on the political scene. The process has been praised both within the country, and by international democracy monitoring bodies.

I’m currently writing an article for BBC Focus on Africa magazine about what Libyans and Egyptians think of the Tunisian process, and the decision to elect a constitutional assembly to rewrite the country’s fundamental texts before going ahead with presidential or parliamentary elections.

I’ve just had some really interesting conversations with two BBC reporters – Ranyah Sabry in Cairo, and Rana Jawad in Tripoli. Both women lived through the Egyptian and Libyan revolutions from start to finish and have amazing tales to tell of their experiences. Ranyah speaks of walking through Tahrir Square with young demonstrators who were shot as they were talking to her. Rana has just emerged from months of virtual hiding and filing under a pseudonym after the wounded Gadaffi’s protectors threatened her. She’s now writing a book about her experiences which should be out early next year.

Their observations on the Tunisian process give much food for thought. Ranyah in Cairo says a lot of Egyptians are ‘green with envy’ at the success of the Tunisian elections, and they hope their upcoming parliamentary elections (starting Nov 27th) will be as peaceful and as universally accepted. She says many ordinary Egyptians wish that the military would back away from the process, and allow a genuinely civilian administration to flourish – whether its pro-Islamic (as with En-nahda) is less the issue as to whether the people’s true will is reflected.

Rana in Libya says many ordinary Libyans have been so distracted by the violence and chaos in their country that they may not have paid much attention to the Tunisian elections – in fact Gadaffi was killed just three days before the vote – Libyans in Tunisia were out on the street celebrating as much as their brothers and sisters at home. But now there is a window of hope, and a democratic process that allows for slow and careful decision-making about the future shape of Libya would be want most Libyans want. The fact that civil society institutions just don’t exist in Libya, due to Gadaffi’s complete control, (unlike Egypt and Tunisia which have more of a tradition of popular participation), means that Libya’s process is even more delicate. But Rana believes that after everything the country has been through, there is still room for optimism.