The new Foreign Minister of Tunisia, Ahmed Ounaies, a professional diplomat, was at pains today to say that Tunisia is not trying to offer itself to Egypt as a model for change, even though the protests that led to the ouster of Tunisia's long term dictator ten days ago helped inspire the subsequent protest movement in Egypt, as well, perhaps, as those in Yemen, Algeria and Jordan.
Tunisia is managing quite well after its "Jasmine Revolution," as international media dubbed it. The corrupt ruling Ben Ali family has departed and its cronies were not accepted, either. A new crowd is in, elections are likely. Protests have died out and what's left of the protestors are being dispersed by security officials.
What is interesting is that there has been no sign yet that Islamists are able to exert any successful influence on the new government in Tunis. Tunisia has a relatively well-educated population, a sizable middle class and a secular tradition. Indeed, women are discouraged from wearing conservative Muslim garb and men with ambitions for government service are not allowed to grow the beards that Islamists favor.
If Egypt were to emerge from its present convulsions with a political profile like Tunisia's, many in the West would sigh with relief. However, to repeat what I've warned before, Middle Eastern countries are all different. Egypt, too, has a young population and an educated middle class. Egyptians supply engineers, journalists and teachers to oil sheikdoms throughout the Arabian Gulf region, for example. Among the Egyptian middle class there is broad religious tolerance. The country is well-connected to Western commerce. It is worlds apart from, say, Afghanistan.
But Egypt also has the Muslim Brotherhood, and that group in turn has ties to Hamas, which is virtually a client of Iran.