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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Grounds for optimism in Tunisia

There are grounds for optimism over Tunisia (which I guess can now be called 'last week's revolution') in this fascinating article in Sunday's Washington Post by Robert Satloff.
In writing a book and narrating a film on what happened in Arab lands during the Holocaust, I have studied Tunisia closely over the past decade. Only 90 miles from the southern tip of Italy, this small North African country was the sole Arab state to suffer a full-fledged German occupation during World War II. I have visited the places where SS officers rounded up Jews and sent them to concentration camps.

Yet Tunisia was also where I found the most stories of Arabs protecting Jews during the war. As in Europe, these Muslim rescuers were ordinary people performing extraordinary acts - like the Tunis bathhouse owner who hid a Jewish man in his hammam or the Mahdia country squire who sheltered two dozen Jews on his farm. This moment in Tunisian history - which had a much happier ending for Jews than did events on the other side of the Mediterranean - gives hope that the current chaos will end reasonably positively.

Tunisia's largely homogenous population has blended a 1,400-year-old Sunni Arab identity with an organic, deeply embedded connection to Europe. Its capital once rivaled Beirut and Alexandria as the most cosmopolitan Arab city, with large communities of Italians, French, British and Maltese injecting a heady mix of energy and ideas into the local culture.

One result is that the Tunisian people have historically sought engagement with the world and rejected extreme ideologies, whether fascist, Nasserist or Islamist. This openness has enabled Tunisia to escape the self-induced savagery and backwardness, respectively, of neighboring Algeria and Libya. Tunisia has its share of radicals, many of whom have recently made their way to the infantry of al-Qaeda and other movements, and the threat of religious extremism is not fantasy, as some suggest. But the local Islamist movement, an-Nahda, is not poised to step in.
Read the whole thing.

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At 6:28 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Tunisia is a secularized and almost European Arab country. It could be a democracy. But the lessons of its Jasmine Revolution are not so easily transferable to the rest of the Arab World. Its Islamist movement is weak and almost non-existent. That is not case in other Arab countries. Democracy elsewhere would probably bring Islamists to power. No more democracy.

Tunisia then, is the exception that proves the rule. The Arab World is not ready for democracy in our lifetime.


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