One important difference, it appears to me, between the transitions in Tunisia and Egypt, respectively, is the relatively greater incidence in Tunisia of public fora that bring together spokespersons from various political and ideological movements in the country simultaneously. The sense I got from my days in Egypt, however, was that the warring-ideological groups tend to speak to the press rather than to each other, much less in the context of a shared public forum. In Tunisia, by contrast, there are several civil society organizations that sponsor fora to promote public debate and dialogue on the various choices facing the country, and while I have not seen any evidence that different groups have moved substantially from their core positions, I think the fact that they can sit together on the same panel and share, discuss and debate their country’s future augurs well for the success of their transitions.
I attend one such forum yesterday at a public institution called “Dar al-Thaqafa Ibn Rashiq,” (The Ibn Rashiq Cultural Centre, Ibn Rashiq being a famous medieval literary figure) that was sponsored by a civic organization with the name “Muntada Ibn Rushd.” There are other such organizations, including one called “Muntada al-Jahiz.” While relatively few such organizations were permitted during the Ben Ali regime, apparently scores have been opened since the end of the Revolution, a fact that has helped raise public awareness of the various issues facing Tunisians in the context of the transition. If anyone knows of equivalent efforts of Egypt, I would appreciate being corrected on this point, but at least from the perspective of an institutional framework for establishing a collective public sphere, the Tunisians appear way ahead of the Egyptians.Read More