It's the question on everyone's lips these days. The trending topic, the pressing issue, the 'primary concern' in the press and in political backrooms everywhere: Is the Arab Spring making way for an Islamic Winter?
I'll cut to the chase by answering: Yes, possibly. Is that inescapably a bad thing? No, not necessarily. Only time will tell.
This week, Tunisians voted in free and transparent elections for the first time in their country's history.
Outside polling stations, they proudly branded their blue fingers (covered in ink to show they had just voted) to local and international press explaining to whoever would listen, who they voted for and why.
With over 90% voter participation, the first results coming out of the country indicated that Al-Nahda, the country's primary Islamic party, swept over 38% of the seats in the new assembly.
Though I am not particularly fond of this type of political party, one can only recognise it showed better organisation, mobilisation and far greater resonance to voters' concerns then most other parties.
Though many of my Tunisian friends and counterparts, educated abroad and liberal for the most part might disagree, the reality is that Tunisian society (like most other Arab societies for that matter) at its core remains weary of overly liberal agendas and finds comfort in the newer approach to conservatism set forth by parties such as Al-Nahda.
Rached El Ghanouchi's party now finds itself in a strong position to govern but will have to do so in a strict democratic framework with respect for individual freedoms, political opponents and the principles of separation of powers in order to prove critics wrong.
Al-Nahda has already launched talks with other parties to help form a majority able to govern Tunisia. It will have to do so with political formations that present very dissimilar ideologies to its own. Whether or not this dialogue yields decisions based on compromise is vital to the future of democracy in Tunisia and might actually affect who the entire region deals with its Arab Spring hangover, the Islamic winter.
Activists of those centre-left parties (secularist parties such as Ettakatol) should not feel alarmed or defeated in the face of these new realities. Rather they will be expected to keep Al-Nahda's powers in check, help it govern when needed and continue to provide Tunisians with alternative societal projects. Such is the importance of healthy opposition in a democracy. Thus far, it seems both sides of the ideological spectrum seem enthusiastic and willing to play by the rules.
These formations with diametrically opposed projects should come together to write a suitable constitution safeguarding the revolution's guiding principles. The first of which was an unfaltering rejection of any and all forms of dictatorship. The democracy fought for must not become a tool for any political formation or personality to return to authoritarian ways of governing.
The point I am trying to get across is that the prospect of an Islamic Winter, an understandably grim headline to most of us secular-liberals, is only a frightening one if Tunisia, Egypt and Libya's newfound freedoms are not respected by these countries' new leaders.
Tunisia might well flourish into a Turkish type democracy with moderate Islamists ruling through pragmatic policies. I have no doubt in my mind that this would be an outstanding leap forward for the entire region.
The sheer symbolism of a genuine democracy, albeit governed by moderate Islamists, neighboring authoritarian regimes might do much more to shake the fundamentals of Arab societies than the bloody coups and revolutions we see elsewhere.
One thing this election has undoubtedly succeeded in doing is making sure those members of the previous regime are unable to return to power, something Egyptians and Libyans are less certain of. This in itself is a tremendous victory.
Political life in the Arab world had long been presented, particularly in the West, as a simplified dichotomy or choice between despotic military-backed regimes or underground Islamic movements. Arabs and indeed Europeans were often coerced into thinking that it was the stability and supposed security of one which protected from the extremes of the other.
Though Islamic parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood or Hamas were hugely popular, foreign powers and local elites counterproductively flocked to local tyrants to prevent their rise to power.
The Arab spring, like 9/11 for American foreign policy, has brought about somewhat of a paradigm shift. It has highlighted a profound restlessness within the youth of these countries in having to choose either side of the same coin.
Perhaps Tunisia's seemingly moderate Islamists might offer a new alternative. Certainly, Tunisia's election is taking the paradigms of old and remolding them in a way which questions our ways of understanding Middle Eastern societal and ideological cleavages.
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