U.S. editorial excerpts.
Selected editorial excerpts from the U.S. press:
TUNISIA'S CHALLENGES (The New York Times, New York)
By many measure, Tunisia has the best chance among the Arab Spring countries to transition to democracy. It is a moderate Islamist-led state with close ties to the West. Nearly two years after deposing one of the region's most repressive autocrats, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisians are deep into the crucial task of writing a postrevolutionary Constitution.
But a spate of recent violent incidents, including attacks on the American Embassy in Tunis last month, have fueled new tensions between the moderate Islamic government and liberal secularist opposition parties over Islam's role and the best way to handle extremists.
Since its victory in the constitutional assembly elections in October last year, Ennahda, the moderate Islamist party that leads the government in a coalition with two secular parties, has tried to reassure Tunisians that it would respect liberal democratic values and not impose a strict Muslim moral code.
But it has opened itself to criticism with an indulgent attitude toward the ultraconservative Islamists known as Salafis. The critics are not just the secularists, who are already mobilizing to defeat Ennahda in the next election. In a recent report, Human Rights Watch said that the authorities appeared unable or unwilling to protect individuals from attacks by religious extremists.
Only a minority of Salafis is believed to embrace violence, so, rather than crack down on all Salafis, Ennahda's leaders have tried to integrate them into the democratic system. But the attack on the embassy, which has harmed Tunisia's image and efforts to revive the faltering economy, may have forced a rethinking. In interviews in Tunis last week, Ennahda officials said that extremists who engage in violence will be prosecuted according to the law. Last Wednesday, a Tunisian court sentenced a leader of radical Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia to one year in prison for inciting the embassy attack. In all, authorities have arrested 144 people.
Ennahda has also drawn fire for allowing the introduction of constitutional proposals that would enshrine Shariah, or Islamic law, and compromise rights for women. The party eventually backed off those positions and the constitutional draft before the assembly omits Shariah and endorses gender equality. Ennahda leaders may have been maneuvering to draw the Salafis into the process, while maintaining their political support, but it gave the secularists another reason to doubt Ennahda's commitment to moderation.
The secularists are organizing an opposition coalition under the leadership of Beji Caid Essebsi, the former interim prime minister who also served in the government of former President Habib Bourguiba. While they are right to criticize missteps by Ennahda, they also have to recognize that, in a democracy, the Islamists can no longer be excluded from power.
The pressure is on Ennahda to deliver a Constitution that protects the rights of all Tunisians under a system of equal justice and to create jobs so educated but unemployed young Tunisians are not drawn to the Salafi movement, which would try to exploit their disillusionment. The pressure is also on the secularists to find ways to work with Ennahda to build a better state. That will require more compromise and commitment to the common good than either side has been willing to show so far.