His power stems not from what he is — his office is ceremonial — but from who and where he is: a leftist liberal President appointed by an Islamist-dominated assembly in the nation where the Arab Spring first flowered. All the countries that followed Tunisia’s lead now face identical challenges. Marzouki recognizes that there are two Tunisias: one religiously conservative and anxious for socioeconomic improvement, the other secular and progressive and terrified of losing its freedoms. Marzouki’s job, he says, is to reassure both that they can coexist, by writing a new constitution that enshrines human rights while respecting Islam and ensuring that both Tunisias have a voice in the political process.
The best reassurance may be Marzouki himself: if he thrives, it will demonstrate that the Arab Spring states can build a pluralistic political environment.
Mohyeldin is an NBC foreign correspondent