The Arab World's Only Respected President — Thus Far

All eyes are on Moncef Marzouki, the newly elected president of Tunisia. He can be considered the only freely elected president or “leader” of an Arab country. To be sure, parliamentary elections do take place in Lebanon but the selection of the president there is done neither by the people nor by the members of parliament, who ostensibly and officially select the president. Foreign embassies have been “electing” Lebanese presidents for decades — long before the eruption of the Lebanese civil war.

Marzouki’s reputation is based on a long career of principled opposition to Ben Ali’s dictatorship. It is fair to say that Marzouki has more power (defined morally) than all other Arab leaders combined, although he came to the office after it was emptied of its powers by the newly victorious al-Nahda party, which barely got 40 percent of the vote.

Marzouki is being closely watched and he is fully aware of it. He has made some hitherto symbolic gestures: not wearing a suit and tie; proposing to sell presidential palaces; donating parts of his salary; appearing humble in speeches and interviews, and voiding the pompous ceremonies of power. But Marzouki needs also to be evaluated on substance.

Marzouki was known in the Arab world due to his appearances on Al Jazeera, particularly the widely watched Ittijah Muakis program. He has been a firm believer and promoter of progressiveness and secularism. But his ascension to power is marked by serious compromises: he has agreed to align himself with a very demagogic version of Islamism in the Arab world.

Al-Nahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi did not wait long before he started revealing his deceptive and underhanded ways. He sent his deputy to Washington, DC to prostrate himself before the Israeli lobby, and then went himself and prostrated further to the Israeli lobby. Worse, he agreed that his remarks would be off the record and then pleaded with the mouthpiece of Prince Salman, Asharq Alawsat, that his remarks against monarchies were misunderstood or misconstrued. Ghannouchi is enjoying power well beyond the 40 percent of the vote that he had obtained for his party.

Marzouki helped to hand total power to Ghannouchi and his Islamist movement, and even bestowed a degree of legitimacy on them with Tunisian secular voters. Marzouki is also partly responsible for the low results achieved by the Communist radicals in Tunisia — the same people who helped trigger and lead the Tunisian uprising while Islamists were home watching the developments on live TV.

Marzouki thus compromised on the major agenda of secularism (it is too soon to predict whether this alliance with al-Nahda will be historically compared to the alliance between the Tudeh Party and Khomeini in the Iranian revolution). Marzouki’s inaugural speech was good: he sent salutations to various Arab uprisings but also, notably, forgot to mention Bahrain, although he had declared his support for the Bahraini uprising prior to the election.

He mentioned Palestine, but in a recent problematic interview with Asharq Alawsat, he sounded too much like a typical Arab politician who is keen on appeasing GCC rulers. He even declared that Tunisia has no enemies: the Saudi sheltering of Ben Ali is now forgotten. He had some good words about Habib Bourguiba, although the latter was the one who had handpicked Ben Ali to be the head of his secret police. Marzouki even recently maintained that demonstrations in Tunisia can be bad for Tunisia.

It is too early to judge Marzouki, but one can distill conclusions from other historical examples. The lesson is clear: Arab intellectuals, especially those who lived abroad for various reasons, should avoid political power. Arab intellectuals should not seek leadership roles or the acclaim of the masses. They can be in the background. They should, as Marx urged philosophers, help change the world, and not interpret it. And since Arab intellectuals don’t have a power base, they are destined to reach power through a dangerous compromise: riding on the coattails of Islamists, whether in Tunisia or Syria, or anywhere else.

Comments

"He can be considered the only freely elected president or “leader” of an Arab country."

What about the president of somaliland?

Interesting. I appreciate Angry Arab's articles for their content. But wish he wasn't so anti-western and marxist.
The comments show the confused state of muslims, who seem to be just starting to think for themselves. No wonder when they couldn't before, well it will take time, lots of it..

I wish "french" was not SO racist. And if french does not like As'ad POV, french could go elswhere - for ex, to Qatari propaganda tool aka "Al-Jazeera". They sure are NOT "Marxist" and they love "west" very much, esp. when west bombs Muslims and other non-whites.

As always, As'aad Abu Khalil proves his patent ignorance of the politics of all the lands west of Egypt..

Let's get real. The only respected president in the Arab world is Bashar al-Asad, by far, even today. If people ever forget who Bashar al-Asad is, this is him: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tY5Z4OKq28o

Bashar al-Asad is the main reason I tell people with pride that I am Syrian, even with today's media campaign.

Who the hell is Moncel Marzouki? He was hand-picked by an-Nahda, and not the Tunisian people. Moncef Marzouki is in a clear coalition with GCC-worshipping reactionaries, and he already discredited himself big time with this fiasco on al-Jazeera over Zainab al-Hosni (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMynWsUP7F8), which turned out to be a fake story about the regime torturing and dismembering and skinning her, only for her to appear alive and well (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bkvzEwVMm9M).

I am just dismayed that your articles have gone down to the level of highlighting things like "he mentioned Palestine".

"He was hand-picked by an-Nahda, and not the Tunisian people"

Before that the people "handpicked" Nahda and two secular Parties. And now go back and torture some children. Or lets be frank go back to your University class in Vancouver that was financed by you mafioso father that ripped of the syrian people.

than let election take place and we will see how popular Assd is.

I have NOT heard about SNC calling for election. SNC call for having power for SNC, because NATO could install them in Syria, just like NATO did in Libya.

Or am I mistaken and SNC is willing to go to polls, instead of begging NATO to bomb Syria?

why he don`t hold elections 10 years ago. Or weeks after the uprisings. Erdogan told him years ago to reform and bring Opposition figures in to political Positions. He refused to do so. Issam El Attaar the former syrian leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who's wife got shot by assads Secret service in Germany was nevertheless willing to cooperate with the regime to avoid foreign interference. No reaction again. Stop with this NATO crap. The Russians and Chinese are not an inch better than NATO.

And why Saudis or Qatar or Bahrain do not have elections AT ALL - and still preach to Assad :) And NATO is quite happy with such examples of Arab "democracy". On the other hand, is SNC not the poster boy of NATO, so they at least might pretend they DO want elections :) And if somebody was ready to cooperate with and to agree with holding elections, sure they are not a rule among the opposition. By the way, a lot pro-Assad or simple not-right-sect Syrians were killed by "opposition" - this and NATO bombs is their way to power, NOT the elections.

Oh so you prefer the sectarian status quo which is now since 1963 in place. If there are Demonstrations for democracy even as sectarian as in Bahrain I want elections. But not only in Bahrain or S.A. I want them in Iran too. NATO or Warsaw Pact+Iran. All the same shitt. Get out of Arabia. And take the Kibitzes and this russian zionist scum with you. They can go back to russia and it`s zionist Billionaires. Where they came from.

kh is getting incoherent in his name-calling. I also am not going to answer to his sectarian nonsense about Bahrain. Anyway, it seems that he is confused - he calls for elections in Iran :). It is just like one American wannabe candidate to prez said in 2011 that China could get a-bomb :)

By the way, I am fully for elections in the ME, esp. if USA/Saudis and so on could not buy them. But if kh really want be independent, he should first decide how USA lackeys could help him - I am afraid he is confused about it as well :(

"Moncef Marzouki screamed, "DEATH TO ALL WHO DO NOT FOLLOW ISLAM." right as he took heed in Tunisia. Not really "democratic" i suppose."

Sources ? no one.
So keep your crap with you

Marzouki also participated in an NED sponsored event:
http://landdestroyer.blogspot.com/2011/12/us-funded-activist-becomes-pre...

"He had some good words about Habib Bourguiba, although the latter was the one who had handpicked Ben Ali to be the head of his secret police. "

Don`t try that Assad. Bourguiaba was the archetype of a secularist. He drank a glass of water in ramadan in front of a camera. what is more "courageous" progressive than this act of "enlightenment" lol . He is still celebrated in western newspapers for this. He argued in that scene of the importance of progress and the usually secularist playbook that we heard over and over again. And we still hear it over and over again.

We thanks bourguiba for his secular dictatorship and secular tortures inside prisons. We thanks him.

Torture is only permitted by sunni Taliban. Secular Torture of Muslims by Secularist is a necessity for the progress of humanity. And progress manifest itself in Bikinis, Atheism, Gay Rights(this is new, you don`t have heard such things in 60`s and 70`s by the secularist because it was a non issue in the west back than) and so on. I call them the secular salafist. Like the originally Bordello gulf arab sponsored Salafist talk only about Niqab, Headscarfs, literal reading of the Koran, Ban of Alcohol and Porn, shia Bashing....Yeah really this are our existential problems lol

"the same people who helped trigger and lead the Tunisian uprising while Islamists were home watching the developments on live TV."

Just another case of Assads wishful thinking.

Leftist lead the egyptian revolution too, right?. This is why they done so well in elections. Oh i forgot that the egyptians where bribed by oil money from the gulf.

"Arab intellectuals should not seek leadership roles or the acclaim of the masses."

escape from responsibility is a better description for it and a speciality of "intellectuals". Since they can`t do anything wrong.

The fact that Al Jazeera has been pushing Marzouki is in itself a source of suspicion. Al-Thani, butcher of Libya and Zionist donkey, never pushes candidates that his masters don't want.

are you not busy enough killing children and artist. Go and chanting ant-wesern slogans while secretly dreaming of living in canada. I know you guys very well.

Moncef Marzouki screamed, "DEATH TO ALL WHO DO NOT FOLLOW ISLAM." right as he took heed in Tunisia. Not really "democratic" i suppose.

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