Tunisia’s troubles


The recent assassination of Tunisian opposition leader Chokri Belaid is a sign of the problems that North African and other Arab countries face as they work through the challenges presented by the changes of the Arab Spring.

In 2011, Tunisia was the first country in the region to replace its old, autocratic government with greater democracy. It ousted President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who had ruled for 24 years.

In short order, equally radical change came to neighboring Egypt and Libya. Fires were lit in countries as diverse as Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, and Syria. The movement also has affected Iran, Iraq, and Yemen to a lesser degree.

In Tunisia, the moderate-Islamic Ennahda Party won national elections. It quickly ran up against Tunisia’s long-time secular political tradition, represented by a range of parties including communists, and led among others by Mr. Belaid.

His death, for which responsibility has not been determined, triggered demonstrations in the capital, Tunis, and other cities. Protesters demanded the ouster of Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki and Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali.

Mr. Jebali offered the opposition a compromise government made up of technocrats and early presidential and parliamentary elections, but excluded Ennahda. The opposition and Ennahda refused the offer and demanded immediate elections.

None of this is surprising. Tunisia had been under rather tame, sometimes not representative, government since it won independence from France in 1956. Tunisia, North Africa, and the rest of the Arab world have a long, rocky road to travel before they settle into stability.

In the meantime, these countries’ friends, including the United States, will need to show patience and steadfastness in their relations, as Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and eventually some other Arab countries negotiate this tortuous route.