By Michelle Jenije, JMI Intern and Florida State University Senior in International Affairs and Political Science
The Arab Spring that ignited in the early months of this year has resulted in the rest of the world holding its breath, awaiting the outcome of this revolutionary chain of events. Three main countries the world is watching areTunisia (where the Spring originated), Egypt, andLibya.Tunisia held its first post-independence election on October 23, 2011. It is being hailed globally as a fair and rather impeccable election, one that would hopefully set the standard, as it did a precedent, for future elections in the Middle East. Granted,Tunisia is a fairly unique state. It is the most prosperous country in North Africa with a highly educated citizenry, largely thanks to its exposure to France. It is no wonder that 90 percent of Tunisians showed up to vote in this historic first free election.Egypt, on a similar note, can boast a developed economy, foreign investors, a tourist industry and more. Unfortunately, when Egypt conducted the first free Arab vote of the year on March 19, while it was actually quite fair, it turned out to be quite fake–only an exercise. In reality, Egypt’s junta (military government) has shown no signs of relinquishing power and making the regime change needed to make positive moves forward.In light of Egypt’s transition difficulties, it is interesting to note that Tunisia has been civilian led in this post-independence process, including the creation of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA). With the army neutrality during and after the revolution, Tunisia has never been a military society.After the death of Qaddafi on October 20,Libya is in the midst of a political transformation facing major obstacles.Libya does not have a sophisticated economy, well-educated population, or an experienced government with parties. Twenty-seven militias have emerged to fill the vacuum in the absence of a national army, although none are an organized Islamist group such as that found in Tunisia.Libya has the largest oil reserves in Africa, but it remains to be seen whether or not the profits will now be distributed properly throughout the country to benefit the people of Libya or once again used solely for those in power.Qaddafi effectively cut off the country’s access to the outside world through journalism or other individual sources like the Internet. Yet, interestingly, this absence of news sources, government-controlled or private, may be an unintended gift from a dictator who had not planned on losing power. Unlike Egypt, the new media emerging in Libya has a clean slate, including never having been inoculated with pro-Qaddafi ideas or government interests that could hinder change.Libya, along withTunisia andEgypt, faces many challenges that will promote or undermine the democratic course of the country depending on how they are handled. Many people can analyze the past and predict what will happen, but ultimately only time will tell.