Why were Islamists less polarizing in Tunisia than their counterparts in Egypt after the downfall of the autocratic regime in 2011? While the electoral processes that brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt rapidly polarized society, the Muslim Brothers in Tunisia formed a coalition with secular groups to pry power from the old power centers immediately after the removal of Ben Ali. Different approaches focused on Tunisians’ liberal culture and their proximity to Europe. Scant attention paid to both the historical and political-strategic conditions that shaped boundaries of interactions between Islamists and non-Islamists. I argue that the historical relations between the state and Islamists affect the distribution of power between them on the one hand, and their secular opponents on the other. In Tunisia, Islamist and non-Islamist forces believed in the necessity of conciliation (or were forced to do so by political circumstances). They, therefore, reached across ideological lines and struck deals to hold democratic institutions.
Shimaa Hatab is assistant professor of political science at the Faculty of Economics and Political Science, Cairo University. She received her Ph.D. in Political Science from Essex University. She is a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at the Abbasi Program, at Stanford. Her research interests include democratization, authoritarianism, political economy of development, with a focus on countries in the Middle East and Latin America.