by Larry Diamond, March 23, 2015, published in The Atlantic

TUNIS, TUNISIA—Last Wednesday’s savage terrorist attack in Tunis targeted the one country that has delivered on the promise of the Arab Spring by producing a real—and surprisingly liberal—democracy. In every other Arab country swept by mass pro-democracy protests in 2011 and 2012, hopes have been cruelly dashed. Egypt struggles under a military-dominated dictatorship. Syria is mired in a civil war, and now Libya and more recently Yemen are sliding in the same direction. Democratic protests in Bahrain were brutally crushed by troops from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf neighbors, and nowhere else did protests reach a scale that seriously challenged autocracy.

Does the March 18 Tunis attack—which as of the latest count had taken at least 23 lives—signal that Tunisia will be the next (and final) Arab Spring state to be swallowed by violence and repression?

No. The attack was shocking and will further damage the country’s ailingtourism industry, which accounted for 7 percent of the entire economy prior to the last few years of political turbulence. But Tunisia remains full of promise. Alone among the Arab Spring states, it has achieved a remarkable level of political compromise among secular parties and the principal Islamist party, Ennahda. This has been due in no small measure to the leadership of Ennahda founder Rachid Ghannouchi, who has, at every crucial turn on the sometimes troubled path from dictatorship, embraced flexibility and moderation and promoted the vision, as he put it in a March 20 statement celebrating the country’s 59th anniversary of independence, of “a republic of freedom, democracy, and social justice.”

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