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Tunisia's Identity Crisis

Author: Victoria Taylor, 2011-2012 International Affairs Fellow in Residence
May 2012
Foreign Service Journal


Although Tunisia was the first Arab Spring country to overthrow its longtime dictator, its revolution was overshadowed by the uprising in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the conflict in Libya and the crackdown in Syria. By comparison, the Tunisian Revolution, while dramatic, has led to relative stability.

Former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali left the country quickly and of his own accord on Jan. 14, 2011. The Oct. 23 constituent assembly elections proceeded smoothly and were heralded as a model for other transitional democracies. Despite an increasingly polarized debate between Islamist and secular elements, Tunisia's transition thus far has been smooth.

The Islamist Ennahda ("Renaissance") Party won an impressive 40 percent of the seats in the October voting, ushering in a profound and positive change for those who had not felt free to practice their religion under the Ben Ali government. But many secular Tunisians continue to view Ennahda with suspicion, fearing that the party has a hidden Islamist agenda. The emergence of a small, but vocal, Salafist movement has further inflamed fears that increasing religiosity poses a threat to life as they know it.

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