For many reasons, we are very excited that the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet WON the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize on October 8th –pleasantly surprised since Pope Francis and other names were well circulated on popular polls without any mention of different Tunisian civil society leaders. The first reason is that it’s an overdue win for Tunisian civil society, the drivers for peace in any country.
The second reason is that a Tunisian win for peace means that progress is not about a sole hero, or heroine, but how many must participate in order to promote positive change. This point holds especially true when obstacles emerge after the initial high of success, or revolution energy, wears off and people feel too drained to participate beyond elections. Remember the compromise and dialogue Tunisian unions and party leaders undertook back in 2013 when Tunisia’s dominant party, Ennahda, stepped down after political assassinations? Shortly after, this was followed by the resignation of premier Ali Larayedh–the first voluntary resignation in a North African or Arab country that holds elections for high office. And by voluntary, we remain cognizant of how sensitive the term “soft-coup” is in neighboring countries. Unlike Egypt, this was not at all the case in Tunisia.
Speaking of Egypt, this brings us to our third reason for being excited about Tunisia’s Nobel Peace Prize win: governments in transition cannot subject segments of their civil society to repressive measures in the name of protecting them. Making civil society more “secure” by sidelining media institutions and organizing groups only makes civil society more insecure to move forward with the changes it seeks. That is instability.
building a strong government for weak civil societies is a strategy for failure…~Sherif Mansour, MENA Director of Committee to Protect Journalists
Sherif Mansour, Middle East & North Africa Director for the Committee to Protect Journalists, provided several examples of how a state weakens civil society, thereby increasing instability in Egypt, in his latest report to the National Endowment for Democracy.
- Mansour described the
#LiarsCampaign, which raised awareness about police brutality. They organized to shift protest from social media to the Egyptian streets. Unfortunately, the Egyptian government sent thugs after the Liars Campaign activists. @DrBassemYoussef used internet to critique Egypt’s “deep state” dilemma and opened up #Egyptian civil society’s space for more voices. Unfortunately Youssef moved out of Egypt after shutting down his media program due to increasing harassment in the Mursi and El-Sisi regimes.
- Because public television and many Egyptian media outlets are influenced, if not controlled by the Egyptian government, Egyptian citizens are constantly seeking alternative news sources. Satellite TV operated from abroad, but owned by Egyptians, is a growing option. Once state-owned media faces bankruptcy, they will face a reform opportunity.
As such, it is harder for opposition & different economic solutions to emerge in the press when there are media restrictions. Without open discussion and a public forum to voice suggestions, there is no way to create feedback loop. Who will dare critique the huge monetary decisions and outline the pros and cons of devaluing the Egyptian pound? In fact, Egypt’s Central Bank lowered the Egyptian currency for the second time this month.
Please STOP Comparing Egypt With Tunisia & Vice-Versa
We know that there is an extremely vocal group of Tunisians who gets upset when comparisons/contrasts emerge between Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt — because they feel that their cases are unique, or exceptions to the rule. Yes: both Tunisia and Egypt are Arab, middle-income countries faced with subsidy reform while dealing with political culture shock. No: both Tunisia and Egypt do not have a similar spectrum of political parties; nor the same voter-turnout trends. [As of this date, we see how over 50 percent turned out in Tunisia’s last big election in 2014 whereas, Egypt’s voter turnout of 2% for 2015 parliamentary elections– single digit!?!– STARKLY contrasts with Tunisia’s.] True: Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt do not experience exactly the same economic woes–a part from double digit unemployment. But overall, neighbors compare. Visitors to the neighborhood compare. That’s what they do. Rightly, or wrongly, neighbors are compared. The one upside to the neighborly comparison is that civil societies within those countries may decide if they are on the path that they want to be on, or if they see a different path that they think might suit their interests better.
However, identifying differences and similarities is part of the analytical process. So please indulge some of these observations shared by Mansour when reviewing how civil society has been oppressed in Egypt. Much of the compare/contrast actually puts Tunisia in a position of praise.
Internet wasn’t seen as an organizational tool in Egypt until Tunisia proved it could facilitate change~ Sherif Mansour
Repression against journalists…helped return
#Egypt to a system of authoritarian stagnation.~Sherif Mansour
While Tunisia’s media outlets and unions voiced their concerns about politics and rights, they managed to demand political change. However, this is not the case for Egyptian journalists, activists, and union leaders: their positions to advocate are weakened by the state. According to Mansour, “The Muslim Brotherhood used their time in office to go after their critics,” and argues this triggered a slippery slope for any ruling power to hold back opposition. Consequently, El-Sisi will have to seek outside economic and military assistance because of a weakened society in Egypt.