By Sharan Grewal, Princeton University
* This memo was prepared for the “Islamist Politics in the Shadow of the Islamic State” conference, January 23, 2015.
The contrast between the Egyptian and Tunisian transitions has been the foundation for a remarkable number of comparative analyses. The yawning divide in the outcomes makes such comparison inevitable: Egypt’s democratic experiment ended in a military takeover and extreme state violence; Tunisia’s produced a consensual constitution and a second peaceful transition of power. Although the consolidation of Tunisia’s democracy is by no means assured, its progress thus far raises the question: Why has Tunisia’s transition to democracy been more successful than Egypt’s?
Many of the most commonly cited explanations are clearly contradicted by available evidence. The usual argument for Tunisia’s exception emphasizes its small and homogenous population and absence of deep ideological divides. But, in fact, ideological polarization was just as severe in Tunisia as in Egypt. Tunisia’s transition, like Egypt’s, suffered from a debilitating Islamist-secularist divide, reflected in two political assassinations and months of political deadlock. Survey data from the Arab Barometer suggest that despite Tunisia’s alleged homogeneity, secularists in Tunisia were as distrustful of their ruling Islamist party as they were in Egypt. Continue reading on The Monkey Cage.