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Chapman’s News & Ideas Tunisia’s Significance–the Interim Phase

Max Boot, the defense and foreign policy writer now lodged at the Council on Foreign Relations, was on the same International Republican Institute observer mission for the Tunisian elections the past week. His well-presented descriptions in the Weekly Standard are all ones I can endorse.

Tunisia, with a population about the size of Illinois, has made real progress, as Max points out. The next election–for President, a somewhat ill-defined post–will say a lot about the ability of disparate groups to work together. The struggle in Tunisia now is not so much Islamism versus secularism as free marketers versus statists. The old system was a familiar developing world type: part state-connected crony capitalism, part socialism. It’s a bad mix, unless you like stagnation.

This matters to America for several reasons. First, we need a regional model for Muslim countries working in a democratic framework with broad human rights (including minority rights) guarantees.

Second, Tunisia has the potential to show how a third world economic approach can be changed with new economic policies. The Afec party (“Aspiration”) is made up of young people who know their stuff and other parties respect them for it. The moderate Islamist party (Ennhahda–“Renaissance”), oddly enough, is probably more open to economic liberalism than the now-leading party, Nidaa Tounes (Call of Tunisia), which includes many of the technocrats from the old dictatorial regime.

Third, someone in political power needs to talk sense to would-be terrorists in the Muslim world, especially among youth. This is the toughest challenge, because the educated youth who lack professional opportunities are exactly the target population for ISIS and Al Qaeda.

The Tunisian elections got some mention in the international press, but not as much as they deserved. Ebola, the fighting in Syria and Iraq, and simultaneous elections in Ukraine and Brazil competed for space. But the significance of Tunisia may be at least as important in the long run.