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Bin Ali's Tunisia: Democracy by Non-Democratic Means

Larbi Sadiki
British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies
Vol. 29, No. 1 (May, 2002), pp. 57-78
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/826148
Page Count: 22
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Bin Ali's Tunisia: Democracy by Non-Democratic Means
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Abstract

The article tackles one principal question: Can the current dicing with democracy in Tunisia serve as a harbinger for good governance when it is founded on exclusionary political practices. It argues that Bin Ali's reforms represent yet another phase in the reproduction of hegemonic political practice which is about control not democratic power sharing. The article's analytical agenda is two-fold. Firstly, it will critically assess the nature of Bin Ali's 'electoral democracy'. In so doing, it looks at the tension between political rhetoric and practice. What becomes clear is that 11 years of 'electoralization' and 'parliamentarization' have not put an end to unlawful exclusion, muzzling of free expression, repression and disenfranchizement. Secondly, it will show that Bin Ali's obsession with hegemonic control may already be corroding his regime's legitimacy at home and denting its credibility abroad, especially in France. In this respect, the analysis will attempt to draw general conclusions from three recent crises. Specifically, can they be read as the first cracks in the monolith of singular rule in Tunisia? The article concludes on a negative and a positive note. On the negative side, Bin Ali, as this author believes, is not likely to give up power constitutionally. On the positive side, the April-May 2000 crises have placed his regime in the spotlight at home and abroad and may possibly galvanize civil society into pressuring the regime to reverse its return to a closed society.

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