Tunisia's Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali visited Berlin on Wednesday. Tunisia is a valuable partner for Germany in North Africa, says DW's Daniel Scheschkewitz.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed Hamadi Jebali in Berlin on Wednesday with open arms and friendly words.
From a German point of view, the way that Tunisia has developed since the revolution gives cause for hope. Despite social and economic problems, Tunisia is politically stable - and that stability is a positive factor in the region. Elections were not accompanied by violent protests, as in Egypt. They were free and fair and led promptly to the formation of an undisputed government. Prime Minister Jebali made it clear in his talks with the chancellor how important this democratic process was to him.
The 62-year-old, who also heads the Islamist Ennahda party which has a clear majority in parliament, took office in December.
At first, many Europeans were shocked by the election results, fearing the country was on its way to becoming a religious, fundamentalist society. But since then, the prophets of doom have more or less fallen silent.
Of course, there have been scuffles in movie cinemas showing sexually explicit western films; just last week at the University of Tunis, Salafists flew a banner with the Islamic statement of faith. The fact that Nabil Karoui, the owner of the Nessma private TV station, still faces legal action is alarming. He is accused of blasphemy for broadcasting the French-Iranian political cartoon "Persepolis." The film is about a young Iranian girl who struggles with and questions God. A prison sentence for Karoui would be an alarming set-back for freedom of opinion in Tunisia.
The middle ground
Despite these isolated cases, concern that Tunisia might turn into a religious-authoritarian society after the Islamists' election victory has not turned out to be justified. All citizens, no matter their creed, enjoy the same rights. The equality of women is due to be included in the constitution.
Following the uprising in Tunisia, Germany demonstrated its confidence in the nation by cancelling the country's debts. So far, Germany has not been disappointed. The political foundations attached to the German political parties are able to work in Tunisia without harassment, thus contributing to the development of a stable democratic culture. Bikinis haven't been prohibited at Tunisian beaches, either. The people know there can only be a sustainable economic upswing if the tourists return to the beaches. Tunisia's new government is based on a broad coalition and seeks political dialogue instead of confrontation. The country has chosen the middle ground where a modern, western lifestyle coexists alongside a traditional Islamic lifestyle.
Tunisiahas also proven to be a dependable partner in the Syrian crisis. The first meeting of the West's Contact Group for Syria, which aims to coordinate the political and economic measures against the Assad regime, took place in Tunis.
Tunisia, trying hard to find a political solution to the conflict, has played a constructive role in the Arab League. That includes a legitimate warning by Prime Minister Jebali against any military intervention in Syria. Tunisia may be angry at the systematic killings carried out by the Assad regime, but the country's government is well aware that NATO's action in Libya can't be duplicated in Syria. Whether, as suggested by the Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki, Tunisia would be suitable as a country of exile for Bashar al-Assad is a different story.
It would be much more significant if Tunisia's own former dictator Zine El Abadine Ben Ali, who fled the country to Saudi Arabia, would return soon to face trial. A trial according to constitutional criteria would be yet another sign of Tunisia's model development - and an important signal to its Arab neighbors.
Author: Daniel Scheschkewitz / db
Editor: Michael Lawton