Evaluation of Russia’s democratic history 1996-2012

This is my senior scholarship, an essay I wrote over the summer as an extension to my studies.

How has democracy progressed in Russia? A comparison of the 1996 and 2012 Presidential elections

While most European states moved towards, and in a majority of cases fully adopted, democracy in the 19th and 20th centuries, Russia was still controlled by the absolutist Tsars until 1917. Following two messy revolutions, Bolshevik rule was established and continued – notably under Lenin and Stalin – until the early 1990s. This period saw the foundation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which acted as the counterweight to the United States during the Cold War. However, the pressures of capitalism and the desire for independence led to the break-up of the Union – epitomised for many by the dramatic fall of the Berlin Wall in October 1989. From then on, Russia has been through a series of brutal economic reforms designed to bring it into line with the capitalist economies of the West. At the same time, democracy has struggled to assert itself in a nation traditionally ruled by charismatic strongmen.

This essay compares the freedom and fairness of the first Presidential election held in a sovereign Russia, in June 1996, and the most recent election, held in March 2012. Several criteria must be fulfilled for elections to be truly democratic – most obviously, they must be free from vote fraud and buying, but they must also be accompanied by a free media, fair electoral campaigns and freedom to stand for office. By examining the extent to which these criteria were met at each election, this essay will see if democracy progressed between the Yeltsin and Putin eras.

A free media is vital to the democratic success of elections. If the electorate is only provided with biased information, normally in favour of the incumbent regime, the people are unable to make an informed choice. This is what Boris Yeltsin’s opponents claimed had happened when he won re-election in June 1996. It is indeed true that the media gave much more attention to Yeltsin – especially on the day when he and his main opponent, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation’s (KPRF) Zyuganov, both announced their candidacy. This favouritism continued throughout the campaign. However, it is by no means certain that this bias came about due to direct instructions from the Kremlin. It is highly probable that the media naturally supported Yeltsin, as a return to Communist rule would have meant an end to the press freedoms that had been gained since the fall of the USSR.

By 2012, however, the situation had deteriorated. Freedom House, a non-governmental campaign group, ranked Russia 173rd out of 197 for media freedom in their annual report. Putin, along with his business allies and various members of the regime, controls the media through a dangerous mixture of rewards and threats. The cost of speaking out is high – ten journalists were murdered between 2000 and 2010, and more have lost their lives since. Putin has huge control over television broadcasting, as the state directly owns the two main channels and a twenty-four hour news show. Although the media was compelled by law to allocate the same amount of broadcasting time to each Presidential candidate, many channels manipulated this by showing documentaries about the successes of Putin’s previous terms as President and Prime Minister. These documentaries, it was claimed, did not constitute part of Putin’s time allocation because they were not intended as campaign material. A report by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) found that ‘the First Channel allocated some 61 per cent of news coverage to Mr Putin (37 per cent as Prime Minister and 24 per cent as a candidate), while other candidates received between 9 and 11 per cent of coverage each’. The bias here is evident. This favouritism was mirrored by privately-owned broadcasters, suggesting not just direct intervention but also an atmosphere of fear. Whereas the media’s support of Yeltsin was probably a matter of choice, its support of Putin was undoubtedly forced upon it.

This conclusion is sustained when the degree of popular resentment towards Putin is considered. In December 2011, Moscow saw huge protests against the results of a fraudulent election to the Duma (parliament) and the inevitable job-swap between Putin, then Prime Minister, and President Medvedev. Both state and private media organisations blamed the protests on Western enemies of Russia, even though most protesters were clearly ordinary Muscovites. This is just more proof that Russia’s broadcasters and print journalists are under the Kremlin’s control.

Aside from obvious media bias, evidence suggests that Yeltsin’s campaign was not conducted fairly. When campaigning started at the beginning of January 1996, the incumbent President was polling at about 6% – mostly due to the dire state of the economy and rumours about his health – but by the first round of voting in June he gained 35.1%. This dramatic rise in Yeltsin’s popularity suggests his campaign was not always conducted within the rules. It is generally accepted that Yeltsin spent more than each candidate was lawfully allowed to. However, the question of where these funds came from is more interesting. An article in Forbes Magazine after the 2012 elections suggests that Yeltsin used state funds to finance his campaign – an advantage that only he, as the incumbent, had over the rest of the field.

Yeltsin also used his position to dole out fiscal gifts to nearly every region in Russia before the election, whereas his opponents could only promise to do so after they had won. In addition to direct payments to the regions, during the months leading up to the election he made many Presidential decrees granting tax breaks to various sections of society including pensioners, teachers and the defence industry. There was nothing unconstitutional about these decrees but their timing indicates that they were being used to influence the result of the election – the number of decrees increased steadily as polling day approached. It is clear that Yeltsin used his position to outshine his opponents on the campaign trail – he even gave one woman a car, after she had complained to him that she could not buy one. The use of state funds to finance such populist moves emphasises the unfairness of the campaign.

In 2012, Putin’s challenge was different. It was a foregone conclusion that he would be victorious in the election. Instead, his campaign focused on keeping up the appearance that he was in control. Following the unashamedly-rigged Duma elections in December 2011, Moscow had seen its first big political demonstrations since the disintegration of the USSR. It seems that Putin had not accounted for the values and expectations of Russia’s new urban middle class, who aspire to democracy rather than to be lead by a traditional strongman. If Putin was to maintain his political strength, he had to portray these demonstrations as insignificant and ridiculous. Therefore, his campaign concentrated on spreading propaganda which labelled the protests as plots by supposed Western enemies of Russia. To keep up appearances, Putin also bussed in to Moscow thousands of his rural, poor supporters to take part in pro-Kremlin rallies. Students at various Moscow universities and employees at other state-affiliated institutions were instructed to attend these rallies. There can be no doubt that this was due to Putin’s position as Prime Minister. By having dozens of protesters and political leaders arrested, Putin was clearly showing the world that he was still in control.

In the run-up to their respective elections, both Yeltsin and Putin broke the normal rules of campaigning. However, while Yeltsin used his position as President to abuse state funds, Putin was more sinister – the opposition was both ridiculed and unlawfully repressed. In this respect, Russian democracy definitely took a step backwards between 1996 and 2012.

In all liberal democracies, it is vital that anyone can stand for office – despite the threat they may pose to the incumbent government or the unsavoury nature of their views. However, this was not honoured by the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) in 2012. At the beginning of the campaign period, seventeen candidates announced that they were planning to contest the election. However, eleven of these failed to get a place on the ballot paper. This is because of the lengthy and corrupt nature of the candidate registration process. Each candidate must submit at least two million signatures to the CEC to be considered and verified. The OSCE report says “Candidates may be denied registration if more than 5 per cent of the total number of signatures selected for verification is found invalid or if the total number of valid signatures is less than the required two million.” The OSCE concludes that collecting the two million required signatures rendered registration unusually “onerous”. There are also questions surrounding the CEC’s impartiality. The President, Duma and Federal Council of Russia each elect five members of the CEC. As Putin’s United Russia held the majority in the Duma prior to the election, and Medvedev was merely a stand-in for Putin himself, it is highly unlikely that the CEC acted in an independent manner.

Examining who was barred from standing seems to confirm the CEC’s bias. The most promising candidate, Gregory Yavlinsky, was ruled out almost immediately because some of his supporting signatures were not written in ink. Another candidate, Demitriy Mezentsev, was said by critics to be a ‘technical candidate’ who would run if there was no one else to oppose Putin as the law requires there to be at least two names on the ballot paper. This is confirmed by events: once Mikhail Prokhorov’s candidacy was confirmed, Mezentsev was dropped as there was now an opponent to Putin. However, due to the timing of the announcement of Prokhorov’s candidacy – just two days after a big demonstration in Moscow – many observers felt that the Kremlin may have asked him to run in order to placate the protesters. Clearly, this was a breach of the normal democratic process and denied the public a free choice.

In 1996, by contrast, eleven candidates made it to the ballot paper, including Mikhail Gorbachev. The results from the first round of voting shows that most of these candidates did not have a large support base – suggesting that they were allowed to stand because of the rule of law rather than due to fear of a backlash in the Kremlin. The wide range of political views represented also shows that Yeltsin’s regime did not pick convenient opposition candidates, but allowed a real opposition to emerge. It is easy to see that the right of freedom to stand for office was honoured in 1996, but by 2012 it had been manipulated so that no one representing a real threat to Putin was listed on the ballot paper.

All this is important, but the most vital part of the electoral system is voting itself. This can be divided into two areas: were people able to vote freely and were votes counted fairly? It seems that for both elections the answer to the first question was mostly yes. In 2012 the CEC was forced to install webcams in polling stations after the outcry about the Duma elections. In addition to this, international agencies monitored the vote in many areas, making it hard for Putin to actively force people to vote for him. However, students and state employees were instructed to vote for Putin – many did so out of fear of losing their places or jobs. There were also reports of Putin supporters being driven between polling stations to vote multiple times. Nevertheless, polling stations were free of campaigners and the security services. The OSCE declared voting to be “good or very good in 95 percent of polling stations visited”. The same was true in 1996, where monitors declared the vote free. Access to polling stations was good and convenient for the majority of the population. In this respect, there was no improvement or deterioration of conditions between 1996 and 2012.

However, the second question – whether the count was fair – raises more issues in both years. The OSCE said of the 2012 elections that the “process deteriorated during the vote count which was assessed negatively in almost one-third of polling stations observed due to procedural irregularities.” These included ballot-box stuffing, a process in which non-existent votes are said to have been made and are counted. The webcams that had been installed were not able to record the count and some observers were prohibited from performing their role. In some cases, votes were not counted one by one. Mobile ballot boxes were dealt with separately, which is against the law, providing more possibilities for fraud.

These problems were also present in 1996, but to a lesser extent. Ballot-box stuffing was confined to certain remote areas – especially Chechnya, where Yeltsin was conducting a brutal war against separatists. Observers also witnessed votes being illegally transferred from one candidate to another. Nevertheless, fraud was not as systematic in 1996 as in 2012, suggesting it was the work of local electoral authorities rather than the CEC. Again, Russia’s tortured journey towards democracy had been reversed by Putin – in 2012 the situation was worse than it had been in 1996.

Clearly, Russia’s democratic transition has gone into reverse. The media has lost freedoms that it had in 1996, which means Putin enjoyed much more coverage than his opponents. Although Yeltsin’s campaign was fraudulent, Putin’s was mired by public oppression of the opposition – who did not even have their own candidate thanks to the Kremlin’s vetting of candidates. By contrast, in Yeltsin’s time anyone was allowed to stand for office. Putin now also has full control of the CEC, resulting in a complete lack of fairness at the count after the 2012 elections. Barely anything about the 2012 election was free or fair. Putin has become an autocrat, with an unparalleled ability to manipulate his country’s political landscape. He can arrest opposition leaders on fabricated charges, threaten journalists and force people to display their support for him, knowing that the judiciary will never prosecute members of the regime. Both private and state-owned institutions have lost their independence, meaning there is no longer any form of effective civil society. Yeltsin’s victory was a sign that Russia did not want to return to Communism. Putin’s, however, was forced upon the country. Now, as people become richer and more connected to the West – including its democratic ideals – it is unclear whether Putin can maintain such control. The recent protests and international condemnation of Putin’s response suggest that the regime will come under increasing pressure in the next few years. No matter how long he holds on for, his downfall is somewhat inevitable. But with the opposition in tatters, no one can say who will follow him. Russia still has a long way to go on its way to democracy.

Doubts on democracy

So the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Mursi has beaten Ahmed Shafiq in Egypt’s Presidential elections. After decades of being forced underground during the years of the old regime, the Brothers have gained power in the first democratic elections in Egypt’s history. This is, obviously, a victory for freedom – the people gathered in Cairo’s now-infamous Tahrir Square clearly see it as such.

Elsewhere people will worry. The West will instinctively find it difficult to accept an Islamist government, even as it cheers the advent of democracy. But the West is irrelevant in this situation. The real worrying will be done by Egypt’s liberals, women and – particularly – its sizable Coptic Christian minority. The Brothers have promised to form a unity coalition with such liberals and has sworn to honour the rights of women and minorities – but, then again, they promised not to contest the election at all. Promises, it seems, can be broken.

What’s striking here is that many of those who are terrified of the Brothers had to vote for them. People were so mistrusting of Shafiq – the old regime’s last Prime Minister – that they ignored their fears and did the unthinkable. These are the people whose principles were so strong that they risked their lives last February to bring down President Mubarak, it is no wonder they refused to vote for his number two. They may hope, as I still do, that the burden of responsibility will force the Brothers to be more liberal than they were when an underground outfit.

The choice on offer – a Brother or an army man – is an indictment of the progress made since those jubilant days. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) which took over governance after Mr Mubarak’s fall has been extremely reluctant to return to its barracks after decades of controlling civilian life. It postponed the elections several times, and held back results with no explanation. In the build up to the announcement of Mr Morsi’s victory, the SCAF has issued decrees limiting the President’s powers and entrenching their own. This does not bode well – and it is still not certain that the ruling generals will retire peacefully. Somehow, I doubt they will. If this does indeed turn out to be the case, we may witness an ‘Arab spring 2.0’ – this time of a more bloody nature.

Even if the SCAF does bow out gracefully, Egypt is simply a mess. A constitution is yet to be written, while the Brotherhood-dominated constitunal assembly acts as a Parliament instead. No one knows what powers the new President will have, which is quite a big problem for the man himself. Democracy is a fragile thing – and, with all the uncertainties, it may be about to be dropped.

Here’s hoping everyone sticks to their promises.

2012 – another year of change?

Welcome to my 2012 predictions post, where I’m going to detail how and why I think things are going to go this year. I’d love to get some debate going, so please comment to tell me why I am wrong – there’s nothing better than an argument.

The Arab spring
I think 2012 will see a divide emerge in the Arab spring countries, with some moving ahead whilst others struggle and still others beginningh the process. There seems to be general agreement that Syria is heading towards civil war, which I think is likely. The Assad regime is in no mood to go, whilst most of the population is against it. Add to this the religious tensions – the Assad regime is comprised of members of the small Alawite sect, while 80% of the population is Sunni – and strife indeed appears inevitable, especially as more and more armed men defect from the army. Who will win any civil war is hard to say, but it is unlikely that it would be Mr Assad. By 2013, Syria will have a new leader. Howeverr, those most likely to suffer under a new government are Christians and women, because Islamism will definitely flourish. This means the West is being cautious in what it wishes for. Sadly I think 2012 is going to see a lot of bloodshed on the streets of Hama, Homs and Damascus.
Although Lybia has already toppled (and killed) its dictator, 2012 is not going to be an easy year here either. The country is critically divided into tribes, who, without a strongman’s military control, are not likely to get on with each other. The civil war has resulted in a large number of guns being in civilians hands, which is not really a recipe for stability. And no one has a clue how to deal with the large numbers of Gadaffi loyalists who are very annoyed with life. However there is some hope that the National Transitional Council will draft a half-decent constitution and hold some fully-decent elections, providing the country does not erupt again. Even in this case, the road ahead is rocky. The NTC is by no means a legitimate body, and that makes criticism of its ideas legitimate. Islamism will grow here too, because there are not any other political parties. The different tribes are likely to start bickering about representation and oil interests. There is hope, but it’ll take hard work to fulfil it.

In Tunisia and Egypt, however, democracy is making slow but steady process. Elections have just been held in both countries – although the process in Egypt was slightly dubious. I predict that the new Constituent Assembly in Tunisia will actually get its job done, and that we will see proper elections under a good constitution sometime this year. Of course, Islamists will do well, but Tunisians are naturally moderate and I can’t see them putting up with extremism. It also helps that Tunisia is a very homogeneous country, which promotes secularism. Egypt is not extremely fractious either, but it does face more problems than its neighbour. The main one is the army – which has entrenched itself into the workings of political power and is loathe to back out and make room for civilians. It had a crucial role in Mubarak’s regime and has run the country since he fell, which means it has the power to do what it wants. When the election results are worked out, it is doubtful that the army will simply go away. Therefore I think Egyptians will spend most, if not all, of 2012 trying to get its generals back into their barracks. Once they have succeeded in this, I see no reason why they should not follow their Tunisian counterparts to democracy.

Bye bye Putin
It is not often that one witnesses 80,000 people chanting ‘Russia without Putin’ throng the streets of Moscow. Twice. It just doesn’t happen. Nor do people boo the Prime Minister when he appears at over-staged sports fixtures. Apart from now – they do. That’s why I say that Mr Putin’s days are numbered. He brought all this on himself, by taking natural Russian apathy towards politics for granted and treating his people like idiots. They are used to him fiddling elections – but he was so blatant about it that they felt that he was laughing at them (probably). They are used to him bending the rules of the constitution, but his use of Dimitri Medvedev as a pawn in his games was just too ridiculous. Patience snapped. It’s not only his fault though – it’s hardly been a good twelve months for corrupt rulers. It seems that the Arab spring has slapped Russians round the face and forced them to ask ‘why are we putting up with what they’ve succeeding in bringing down?’ And found no answer. Now Putin needs to realise that his people aren’t sheep. Theoretically, he has every chance of surviving 2012. But I don’t think he will. He is so self-assured that he is probably yet to realise how much trouble he’s in and therefore won’t make the liberalising changes that could save him. That will be his downfall. How a Russia without Putin functions will be interesting too see. In a way, it will be harder for Russia to achieve democracy than Arab countries. This is because Russia technically already has a democratic system, but it’s completely corrupted. It will have to take this structure apart before it can start building a new one.

Now this is not something backed by anything I’ve read, but I think the Communist Party of China is in line for a shock. I’m not saying that ‘Communism’ is going to fall in 2012, far from it. What I am saying is that it will become a lot harder for the Party to control dissent. We’re already seeing protests in Mongolian areas of the country and international anger at the plight of Nepal, and the internet is causing a stir. Not only can people from these areas post evidence of confrontation online, they can also debate and form ideas with people on the other side of the world. The government is trying to limit and control the internet, but its very nature mean that they can’t keep up. Liberalism is (maybe) coming to China.

The US Republican race and elections
It was a good day for liberalism and sanity when Michelle Bachmann bowed out of the race to become the Republican presidential candidate having come sixth in the Iowa caucus, and I for one breathed a sigh of relief. Looking forwards, I think Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum will be the people to watch. Mr Romney has been a favourite for a while and is vaguely normal. He has the most moderate social views, which is why Republicans might settle for him – he might be able to appeal to voters who would normally be Democrats, but are disappointed with Mr Obama. The right of the party don’t like him, but the more strategic may convince them. Mr Perry is the only darling of the mainstream right left in the race and therefore has a fair chance, because he can appeal in some way to most Americans. But he is a worrying figure. He would not only ban gay marriage, but even gay relationships. Under his presidency, abortion would be illegal. He is, quite frankly, very scary. Mr Santorum is even more conservative, and reading his website makes me actually angry. So what do I think will happen? Mr Santorum won’t make it, because moderates will balk. So it’ll end as a race between Romney and Perry, which is likely to be very close. Mr Romney is most likely to win but Perry’s right-wingers might pull their weight. And then what? If Perry wins, Obama has more hope than if Romney does. But Mr Obama is not popular – the unemployment rate is stubbornly above the 9% mark, he has not been as revolutionary as his most die-hard fans hoped, and many of his promises have not been fulfilled. Against Romney, he will have a fight on his hands. For that, I almost hope Perry wins the nomination.

Undoubtedly, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel will be seeing a lot of each other this year. Against the will of Sarkozy’s own globalisation-hating citizens, the pair will have to implement a strict regime of fiscal integration in order for the markets to give any credit to the Euro. They will get there eventually, but it will take some fighting for. As Cameron has dug himself into a hole, it is likely that Britain will become isolated and will be unable to affect EU policy. This will cause a shift of power to the East, where France and Germany will find themselves confronted with the autocratic President of Belarus, Alexander Lukahenko, whose policies are threatening the democratic values of the Union. The powers of Europe will have to decide what measures should and can be taken against on of their own members. However, I think it sadly likely that the Euro crisis will blur matters of politics and morality into the background.

Hope and dispair

The world was enthralled last December when democracy reared its head in the Middle East for the first time. It was like watching a film crescendo during January and February when the Presidents of Tunisia and Egypt were literally swept away by the full force of popular opinion. All the good news made us heady as events spread and we could see a new world, at the very tip of our fingers.

Then, events plateaued. We stopped watching with joy and descended into horror. The uprising in Libya quickly led to the siege of Misrata, and NATO was dragged into a new war in the Arab world. The protesters organised themselves into rebel armies and fought against Gaddafi’s ruthless men. In Syria protesters spent the summer and autumn being gunned down in their own cities, by their own people. Still, they ignored the tens of thousands of arrests, the torturing and the murder and they kept fighting for what they believed in. In August the rebels in Libya finally took Tripoli and Gaddafi’s forty-two-year-old regime fell. Joy bounced back into the Arab spring.

The Syrians are still protesting bravely against the Assad regime, which continues to attack them. The UN is imposing tighter and tighter sanctions, and Turkey – once President’s Assad’s most loyal friend – has turned its back. It seems that the end will come, but for the Syrians it may as well be centuries away.

Recently Tunisia held its first elections (see below) which heralded the dawn of democracy, especially as they were so successful. Again, progress in Tunisia spurred its Egyptian neighbours into action. Fed up with the tortoise-paced change in their country, Egyptians surged back to Tahrir Square, the home of the revolution, to demand the resignation of Field-Marshal Tantawi. The Field-Marshal heads the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) which took power when President Mubarak was ousted. Many of its members were involved with the old regime, and there is wide-spread and legitimate scepticism about SCAF’s commitment to democracy. This scepticism increased when the army again opened fire on the new protesters. It looked as if things were going backwards.

The new violence coincided with the start of Egypt’s elections and there was a lot of panic that voting would be cancelled. Fortunately, the polling stationed opened as planned. But the process itself is complicated. People are voting for members of both the lower and upper houses of Egypt’s new Parliament, who will then be responsible for creating a new constitution. Fresh elections will apparently be held before June. This time, voting is being staged over several weeks. This is meant to give the judiciary a chance to regulate what is going on, but it also allows plenty of scope for some nasty fiddling.

The main problem is that the armed forces have become accustomed to special treatment, having been the main source of political power for decades, and are loathe to give it up. Whatever the outcome of these elections, normal politics will not exist in Egypt until the army is safely back in its barracks. And that is a long way off.

Tunisia’s elections

The Arab spring has just witnessed its first true success in the country where the protests started in December last year – Tunisia has held its first elections after 23 years of dictatorship under the now-ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. There were worries that the elections would be mired by violence or vote-fixing, but the UN mission overseeing the process declared the elections had been ‘free and fair’.
The elections were held to appoint a constituent assembly, which will then be responsible for running the country whilst it writes a new constitution. This is an essential process as the constitution will provide a foundation on which to build the democratic institutions, like a justice system, which are so far lacking. It will also set out the rules that will govern future parliaments, which will allow fresh elections for Tunisia’s first MPs and lead to normal governance.
The result of the election was known before the people even went to the polls. Ennahdha (the Renaissance), an Islamist party, won with 41% of the vote. This was so predictable for two reasons. Firstly, Tunisians, although moderate in their views, are nearly all Muslims and so naturally vote for a party that supports their faith. The second reason that Ennahdha did so well is that they are the most organised and well funded party, having existed underground during the Ben Ali era and it had a strong history of fighting corruption. That means that people know who they are and what they stand for, which gives them a huge advantage over the new opposition.
However, the voters have not given Ennahdha a majority in the Assembly and the party has announced that it is seeking to enter a coalition with either the CPR or Ettakatol, the two most popular secular and left-leaning parties. An agreement is likely to emerge, which will give heart to those who worry about an Islamist party being in power as secularists are unlikely to relinquish new-found freedoms. And Ennahdha itself is desperate to present itself as a moderate party, proclaiming to be inspired by Turkey’s political situation – where a mildly Islamist party, the AK, rules a secular society. Turkey enjoys the benefits of a booming economy, partly because investors are keen to make money in the Middle East and want a stable political system in which to work. Many in the West are hoping Ennahdha keep to their professed ambition. At the moment they seem to be doing so – recently the party’s leaders announced a new push for equality for women at home and in the workplace. They have also pledged to safeguard democracy.
Despite all this some observers are worried. It is possible that these promises are being made to ensure the release of frozen government funds abroad or to keep Western governments on side during the times of uncertainty. What happens in Tunisia now is crucial to the future of the region as a whole – having been a trailblazer in throwing off its dictator, the country needs to create a safe path to democracy which its neighbours can follow. But even more importantly, events in this once-insignificant North African country could dictate foreign policy all over the world. A rise in Islamism will only increase Western-Arab tensions and possibly Islamist terrorism. The people of Tunisia have a lot of hopes to fulfil.