Tunisia's totalitarianism

Tunisia's current leaders ought to provide proof they are not replicating old regime practices, an Arabic-language columnist writes. Other topics in today's roundup of Arabic opinion: Morsi's visit to Iran and Lebanon's unrest.

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Tunisia's current leaders ought to provide proof they are not replicating old regime practices

"Back in November 2011, I wrote a column in this same section titled Tunisia: What kind of omen? I was commenting then on the results of Tunisia's first post-revolution elections," recalled Mohammed Al Rumaihi, a columnist with the pan-Arab newspaper Al Sharq Al Awsat, yesterday.

In that 2011 article, Al Rumaihi wrote: "The results of the elections are all too predictable by now. A majority from Ennahda is dominating, followed by the left-wing parties, and there is nothing whatsoever that unites these two camps except a long history of repression under the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

"Moncef Marzouki, the leader of the second largest party in contention, the [left-leaning] Congress for the Republic (CPR), may end up experiencing something pretty similar to what the liberals in Iran had gone through, like Ebrahim Yazdi … and others, whose years of struggle against the Shah of Iran did not spare them marginalisation or the gallows [after the Iranian revolution]."

Coalescing with a religious party often leads to "some form of totalitarianism" and a certain tendency "to dismiss the different other", the columnist added. And symptoms of this have started to appear in Tunisia, with the "Islamist" Ennahda party nibbling away at the core of power in the country.

Since Ennahda came to power, a number of Tunisian journalists, artists and rights groups have complained about a government crackdown on freedoms and a perceived indulgence of anti-liberal protests.

In his article yesterday, the Asharq Al Awsat columnist said: "I didn't have a crystal ball back then." It was just too predictable. "Power sharing is a problem even when power is shared between like-minded camps, let alone when it is shared between opposites," he argued.

It's only this month that Mr Marzouqi, the now-interim president of Tunisia and still the head of CPR, has realised that.

In an address at his party's congress, Mr Marzouqi reportedly said: "The Ennahda movement is trying to grab all the vital points of the nation; they are adopting the same methods of the deposed president, Ben Ali."

Mr Marzouqi's words were delivered by a representative on his behalf, but they were serious enough to send several Ennahda ministers who were in attendance out of the room.

"So they walked out of the room," the columnist said, but it didn't mean that Mr Marzouqi's words really mattered. "Mr Marzouqi's speech came in injury time. The modern kind of freedom he is aspiring to might already be out of reach, and the more time passes, the further away it recedes."

The CPR and other political players in Tunisia are waking up to the hard reality that an alliance with a partner that has "its own interpretation of religion" will always hide unpleasant surprises.

Morsi visit brave but not world-changing

The expected visit to Iran this week of Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi to attend the Non-Aligned Movement meetings will not be the end of the world, but still the decision has outraged Arab, regional and world capitals, Emad Eddine Hussein wrote in the Cairo-based Al Shorouk.

"The visit will last only five hours," he said "And in all likelihood, it will be just a few-minutes-long pro forma meeting between President Mohammed Morsi and Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."

But the tough decision by Mr Morsi to visit Iran must be hailed, he noted. It is a brave move because the visit is the first by an Egyptian leader since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Egypt's former president, Anwar Sadat, feuded with Iran because it deposed his friend, and because the US asked him to. Sadat's successor followed suit when the Gulf, the US and Israel wanted so.

"However, the time of revolutionary and shocking decisions in international relations are dead and gone," he noted. "And Mr Morsi cannot, at least in the foreseeable future, establish strategic relations with Iran even if he wants to."

The unseated president Hosni Mubarak has left Egypt in a situation so dire regionally and internationally, that a mere decision by President Morsi to visit Iran is seen as a "glorious victory", the writer observed.

Lebanon's unrest will not turn into civil war

The spillover from the Syrian conflict into Lebanon has brought back memories of the painful civil war that beset the country for 15 years, and made some warmongers rub their hands over the prospects of a repeat down the line, Barakat Shlatweh commented in the UAE-based newspaper Al Khaleej.

But the ongoing clashes in Syria's neighbouring areas will not turn into a sectarian polarity or a civil war as a result of the emerging alliances between certain Lebanese forces, the writer asserted.

Thankfully, the unrest has been limited to two areas, Bab Al Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen, but neither supporters nor opponents of the Syrian regime got involved in the crisis, restricting themselves to making statements and threats.

These developments show that the tension in Lebanon has reached a tipping point, and reflect a lack of dialogue between different groups, and a deep trust crisis among political and ideological factions, the writer said.

The Syrian crisis is the leading banner under which the Lebanese clashes have taken place, but the truth is that the Syrian issue is but the "straw that broke the camel's back". More important, media pictures of the clashes showed how well-armed the parties are, and how politically aware are the people who control them.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk