Tunisia shows there is no contradiction between democracy and Islam

October 24

Rachid Ghannouchi is founder and chairman of Tunisia’s Ennahda party.

As Tunisia prepares to hold its second free and fair election on Sunday — and continues its transition from despotism to democracy — my country offers a stark contrast to the extremes of terrorism and military intervention seen elsewhere in the region. Tunisia stands as proof that the dream of democracy that spurred the Arab Spring lives on.

Despite what some believe, there is no “Arab exception” to democracy, nor is there any inherent contradiction between democracy and Islam. The Middle East can indeed achieve stability and peace through a process of democratic reconciliation and consensus. But the road will be long and involves the challenging work of building institutions, healing old wounds and forging compromise around shared values. The path that Tunisia has taken can guide others.

Domination by those in power has been at the root of many failures in our region’s history. That is why the Ennahda, or Renaissance, party has not sought a monopoly of power in Tunisia. In the 2011 elections, Ennahda, which I lead, won the largest share of the vote by a significant margin but nonetheless called for a national-unity government, entering into a coalition with two secular parties. The party then voluntarily transitioned to a consensus, technocratic government with the goal of ensuring the successful completion of the transition to democracy.

Sacrificing party interest in this way was a small price to pay for national unity. A 51 percent vote may be enough to give a new government legitimacy in established democracies such as the United States. But in a place like Tunisia, where the foundations for democratic rules are still being constructed through a delicate process of consensus-building, acting with such a narrow majority risks polarizing the people.

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