Like the rest of Egypt, Tahrir Square in Cairo is off-limits nowadays to the protesters who made it famous three years ago. Its Tunisian equivalent is still open for business. In the run-up to the North African country’s parliamentary election last week, Habib Bourguiba Avenue in Tunis hosted rallies by major parties. Islamists and leftists were among groups sharing the tree- and café-lined boulevard, marking out their own spaces for rival campaign events. Violent upheaval and even civil war have followed the uprisings in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria in 2011. Tunisia, where that wave of unrest began, showed that it’s on a different trajectory when Islamists agreed to cede power peacefully after losing the latest vote. The Tunisian exception, analysts say, results from a less meddlesome army, more flexible politicians, and an absence of the external interference that countries deemed more important were subjected to.
Mohamed El Agati, executive director of the Arab Forum for Alternatives research center in Cairo, said he was struck by the contrast during a pre-election visit to Tunisia. “Different political parties, supporters of different groups, were peacefully distributing leaflets and hanging posters in the streets, without anyone stopping them or without clashes erupting,” he said.
Tunisia’s Islamist party Ennahda, which headed governments after the overthrow of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, conceded defeat in last week’s vote to the secular Nidaa Tounes group, which won 85 of the 217 seats to Ennahda’s 69.
In Egypt, the elected Islamist government was toppled by the army last year after protests against it. Police permission is now required for demonstrations, and several leaders of the 2011 uprising are in jail.