Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Tunisian test | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The Islamist hardliners who recently attacked the Tunisian “Nessma” television station will inevitably fail to change the course of events in present-day Tunisia. The protestors were “horrified” at the screening of the Iranian movie “Persepolis”, which criticizes corruption and the despotic religious rule, and so they attacked the station’s premises and attempted to set fire to them.

The incident aroused a great controversy both inside and outside Tunisia, amongst the media and amongst those monitoring developments inside the country, considering the attack as an indication of the future awaiting other Arab societies, whether their revolutions had been successful or whether they were still striving to gain freedom.

The statements issued by the channel’s journalists after the attack, in which they described what happened as an attempt to impose a dictatorship upon the country by force, may be incorrect. Yet what seems to be clear is that the Islamists, especially the Salafists, will not gain control of public life. The general Tunisian scene suggests that it will not be easy for such currents to attain the authority, or the political and social status, they yearn for. By monitoring the daily incidents of the Tunisian revolution, and the course of events since, we can conclude that the Islamic presence there is limited or almost completely absent. It seems that the past months’ mobility will not change this fact despite the extensive rhetoric that claims the Islamists are coming.

The Arab Spring was initiated in Tunisia, and this did not happen by chance. Tunisia is now the first state to face the challenge of the transition towards democracy, in the form of the Islamists, but of course it will not be the only one.

The concerns of a broad category of secularists and liberals with regards to the Islamist danger is somewhat justifiable, especially as we see signs of this in more than one society or country, yet this is a mere possibility that is yet to be tested, and this is what we are going to do in the days to come.

In Tunisia, several attacks have been carried out against nightclubs and cultural and social gatherings, alongside internet campaigns launched by Islamic groups in protest against what they deem to be a violation of their beliefs. In the attack on the television station’s premises, it was striking that the Salafists accused the “Nessma” of seeking to incite them and push them towards violence by screening the film “Persepolis”, which would distort their public image just a few days before the elections.

With their actions, the Islamists have appeared to say loudly that they easily succumb to violence. This has been made apparent on more than one occasion.

In Tunisia, the revolutionaries have passed their first test because there are progressive indicators of education, women’s rights and economic growth there. Today, Tunisia is undertaking its post-revolution test with regards to public and personal freedom, contending with remnants of the former regime and Islamist groups.

What I mean by public freedoms is the media in all its different forms, and by personal freedoms here I mean the personal status law. These two issues will be the subject of the forthcoming elections in two weeks.

Tunisia was the spark of hope for a free and socially active Arab horizon. The coming days will prove this to us.