Azmi Bishara's latest book, Tunisia's Glorious Revolution, was recently published in Arabic by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies. The book deals with the factors inherent in the makeup of Tunisia which led to the revolution in that country-such as the development deficit, burgeoning unemployment, hereditary rule and nepotism, questions of the (lack of) political legitimacy, and the relationship between religiosity and secularism-and compares these to the social factors prevalent in other Arab countries. What this book attempts is to understand the makeup of the Tunisian revolution and the reasons behind its survival, through an analytical reading of the daily events of that revolution.
Arriving at this aim, the author provides a close inspection of the forms of tyranny common in many Arab countries. In particular, the book looks at the merging of a business class within the apparatus of state oppression, and the emergence of a new generation made up of the children of the old military-security elite, who grew to accrue investment wealth and engaged in displays of conspicuous consumption. Yet these displays of wealth, and the image, presented to the outside world of a military staffed by cultured officers who frequented literary salons, were used to mask an ugly reality: that of the torture of political prisoners in security detention centers.
The book's 496 pages (including indexes and appendices) also examines an often-overlooked feature of modern Tunisian history: that of the political layout and formation of political parties within the country on the eve of the revolution. The book further examines the gradual, daily dynamism of the events which left former President Zeinelabidine Ben Ali with no alternative to fleeing the country. In the midst of this widely confusing and seemingly endless series of incidents, it might seem difficult for a comprehensive, clear idea of how to move forward could be shaped. Nonetheless, this is what the book does, providing a kind of road map for practical steps which can be taken to achieve gradual democratic reforms and the peaceful transfer of power within Arab states. Two important questions raised by the author himself within the book are how to deal with states which obdurately refuse to be a part of this dialectic process of reform; and the difficulty of a state's regime potentially using questions of community identity to threaten the breakup of a country's entire social fabric, not just the state.
The responsibility for this, the author leaves with the Arabs' democratic reformers, pointing out the importance of establishing a democracy on the grounds of equal citizenship for all; the alternative would be the institutionalization of conflicts between the revolutionaries and those groups which are deemed to be linked to the regime. This, the author posits, is essential if the nature of any revolution is to be truly "democratic": Citizenship within a democratic context follows on from the unification of all of the people, thus suggesting the idea that any revolution which looks to divide the population along sectarian lines could be defined as "democratic".
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