Amid the deep distrust and suspicion among the international community regarding Islam, Tunisia has proved to the world that Islam is compatible with even the world’s highest standards of democracy. US President Barack Obama’s telephone call to Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa on Monday is further indisputable evidence that the Arab world is also highly competent in adopting universally accepted democratic principles.
Obama called Jomaa to congratulate him on the country’s tremendous achievement in ratifying a new constitution, one of — if not the — most progressive constitutions in the Arab world. The so-called Arab Spring started in Tunisia in 2011 when the people toppled dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
The revolution quickly spread to other Arab states such as Egypt, Libya and Syria. Egyptians forced president Hosni Mubarak to step down, and the Libyans succeeded in ending the brutal dictatorship of Moammar Qaddafi. But the situation in those two countries has deteriorated. The butchering of civilians in Syria continues, and millions have had to flee their homes to avoid gross human rights abuses by Bashar al-Assad’s regime and by various rebel groups.
As reported by the Associated Press, the new Tunisian constitution sets out to make the North African country of 11 million people a democracy, with a civil state whose laws are not based on Islamic law, unlike many other Arab constitutions. An entire chapter of the document, some 28 articles, is dedicated to protecting citizens’ rights, including protection from torture, the right to due process and freedom of worship. It also ensures equality between men and women before the law, and the state commits itself to protecting women’s rights.
When the Indonesian people forced Soeharto to end his 32-year dictatorship in May 1998, many predicted that Indonesia would be torn apart like the Soviet Union or Yugoslavia. There was little confidence even among Indonesians that the nation would be able to transform itself to a full democracy. Despite its shortcomings, it is now a fact that Indonesia has become the world’s third-largest democracy after India and the United States. As the world’s most populous Muslim nation Indonesia has also shown that Islam is compatible with democracy.
We salute Tunisians for their strong commitment to transform their country into a fully democratic state. They have set a great example to the rest of the Arab world that democracy is not just a dream, but a value that can be embraced by any nation and religion when they are ready to reach that goal. The Libyans, the Egyptians and other Arab nations need to look at Tunisia now.
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