Democracy’s Dawn in Tunisia and Egypt?
CAIRO – With protests fading in Tunis and seeming to have peaked in Cairo, it is time to ask whether Tunisia and Egypt will complete democratic transitions. I have been visiting both countries, where many democratic activists have been comparing their situation with the more than 20 successful and failed democratic-transition attempts throughout the world that I have observed and analyzed.
One fear should be dismissed immediately: despite worries about the incompatibility of Islam and democracy, more than 500 million Muslims now live in Muslim-majority countries that are commonly classified as democracies – Indonesia, Turkey, Bangladesh, Senegal, Mali, and Albania. But, for almost 40 years, not a single Arab-majority country has been classified as a democracy, so a democratic transition in either Tunisia or Egypt (or elsewhere in the region) would be of immense importance for the entire Arab world.
Tunisia’s chances of becoming a democracy before the year ends are, I believe, surprisingly good. A key factor here is that the military is not complicating the transition to democracy. Tunisia has a small military (only about 36,000 soldiers), and, since independence in 1956, it had been led by two party-based non-democratic leaders who strove to keep the military out of politics.