Comparisons to Egypt have become ubiquitous in Tunisia. Just like in Egypt, after the ousting of their autocrat secular Tunisian voters also voted for religious candidates, who piously and humbly sought to distance themselves from the corrupt kleptocrats of the previous regime. And, just like Cairo, Tunis became disillusioned not long after the election. Neither the Muslim Brotherhood, nor Ennahda were able to live up to voters' high expectations. They had hoped that in addition to seeing more democracy, their living conditions would also significantly improve.
In Egypt and Tunisia, the new leaders mishandled criticism and growing distrust in their abilities. Instead of revealing their plans, the Islamists in both Cairo and Tunis isolated themselves further as outside pressure increased -- a holdover reflex from the times when they were forced to operate in secret under the old regimes.
In Egypt, the army ousted democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood; Tunisia has seen sometimes violent demonstrations against the Islamist Ennahda government; while in Libya thousands of protesters rose up Saturday against political parties and Islamists blamed for the country's instability.
There are many apparent similarities among these three countries. There is a "clash between modernist and Islamic conservatives but also a resurgence of nostalgia for the old regimes" in Cairo, Tunis and Tripoli.
But "in all three cases we have an evolving process in very different contexts". Tunisia is a small country with a strong middle class with deeply rooted democratic aspirations, a civil society that is especially active and fairly clear ideological references regarding the secular, egalitarian state.
On the other hand, Egypt is structured with two political forces, the Muslim Brotherhood and the army, which sometimes work together and sometimes oppose each other, making political order and disorder at the same time. The progressives did not seize the historic opportunity they had in 2011 to structure themselves in an autonomous way, (and as a result) the historic conditions for a democratic transition in Egypt are far from materialising. While in Egypt "everything remains to be done, or redone," Tunisia has "the best assets in the Arab world for becoming a democratic state" despite its radical, Salafist elements who are doing everything to undermine the process.
Paradoxically, what is happening in Egypt may help stabilise Tunisia because it is pressuring Ennahda to fully accept the rules of the democratic game.
The Tunisian opposition now hopes that, just like in Egypt, the Islamists can be chased out of office by the people. A protest movement called "Tamarod," modeled after the Egyptian group with the same name, has been trying for weeks to mobilize enough Tunisians to topple the coalition. But so far, the group has had little success. One reason for this may be that Tunisians are generally thought to be better educated than their Egyptian peers, and thus perhaps less susceptible to populist tactics.
But outrage over Brahmi's death may be enough to spark a revolt against the government, something that Tamarod hopes will happen. After the murder, the organization called on young people in every province to protest on the streets "until this government falls''.
Observers believe that Brahmi's shooting can only damage Ennahda and help the opposition. It is unlikely that Ennahda leadership is connected with these assassinations, but it is likely that Ennahda supporters or sympathizers are. Nevertheless, these radicals have likely done a disservice to the Islamists, because the murder will only strengthen the Tamarod movement.
Libya is a special case because it is dominated by a tribal organisation and the government's only source of power against militias is its oil revenues. However that despite the current chaos in Libya, the demonstrations currently taking place express exasperation with Islamists who have formed militias who are undoing what elected officials decide.
After the "Arab tsunami" of 2011, the aftershocks that we are seeing will not be the last, driven by the same young people who will come back with the same vectors -- the Internet, Facebook, Twitter et cetera -- with the support of a fringe of opinion who are hostile to the Islamists. The people have something to say today. Even if the revolution grabbed some things, there is still a spirit of freedom that broke free. In any case, the three countries entered a new era in 2011. The old order collapsed. It will not be reborn from its ashes.
By Guylain Gustave Moke
African Affairs Expert
Photo-Credit: Reuters-Egyptian Protesters-Place Tahrir-Cairo