July 5 (Bloomberg) -- The Arab Spring started in Tunisia,
and within a few weeks it had spread to neighboring Egypt.
Today, 2 1/2 years later, Tunisia is close to ratifying a
democratic constitution with well over two-thirds’ support in
the constituent assembly. Egypt, as the world knows, is in the
throes of a military coup that removed the democratically
elected president. The obvious -- and crucial -- question is:
What’s the difference? Why has democratic constitutionalism
worked relatively well in one North African Arab country while
it has crashed and burned in another? And what will the answer
tell us about the future of democracy in the Arabic-speaking
world, from Libya to Syria and beyond?
You might think the answer has something to do with Islam.
But remarkably enough, it doesn’t. In both Tunisia and Egypt,
the first democratic elections produced significant pluralities
favoring Islamic democratic parties. Ennahda, the Islamist
movement whose political party won in Tunisia, is ideologically
similar to the Muslim Brotherhood, and is a kind of associate of
the Brotherhood’s loosely affiliated internationale. Both
parties believe in combining Islamic values with democratic
practice. Both accept a political role for women and equal
citizenship for non-Muslims, even if in practice they are both
socially conservative and seek the gradual, voluntary
Islamization of society.