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Islamist Rule in Tunisia is Over

Tunisia’s Islamist prime minister resigned today and ceded power to a caretaker government. He was not overthrown by guerrillas or by the army, but by peaceful and legal means familiar to citizens raised in democracies.

Tunisia is still the model for post-revolutionary politics in the Arab world. I expected as much at the outset and explained why three years ago. Morocco is the only Arab country in the entire world as politically mature. Egypt is an emergency room case, Libya could turn into a failed state if it’s not careful, and Syria is suffering near-apocalypse. Iraq is…well, it’s Iraq.

And truthfully, that headline of mine is a little exaggerated. The Islamists never actually ruled in Tunisia. They were simply the largest party in a governing coalition, and they were resisted at every step by millions of liberals, secularists, and socialists who also had a voice and a vote.

When I returned for the second time two years ago, the country didn’t look or feel even remotely Islamist. It looked and felt exactly as it did when the government was autocratic and secular, only citizens could finally speak and act freely.

The Tunisians I’m still in contact with think a secular labor coalition will sweep the next election later this year, and they’re probably right, but political predictions in the Middle East are about as accurate as a weather forecast several months in advance, so we’ll see.

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