Tunisia's Intellectual Leaders
As the spirit of 2011 has faded this year amid religious violence in Egypt and Libya and the bloody sectarian civil war in Syria, Tunisia remains the Arab Spring's most promising success story, with a contentious but robust political system and an economy that is growing again.
Much of the credit goes to President Moncef Marzouki, who has provided vision and wisdom since taking office in December 2011. At the U.N. General Assembly meeting in September, the doctor-turned-democracy-activist called on the United Nations to declare dictatorship a "disease" and launch an official campaign against autocratic rulers, including the establishment of an international court to arbitrate elections and government legitimacy so as to prevent dictators from taking power in the first place. "It behooves us to implement an ambitious, bold program to eliminate dictatorship in the same way in which we got rid of polio and smallpox," Marzouki said.
But Marzouki, a former professor of public health, is no starry-eyed idealist. An admirer of Mahatma Gandhi, he devoted himself to human rights early in his career, traveling to India in his youth and South Africa soon after the end of apartheid. As head of Tunisia's leading human rights organization, he was arrested several times by Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's regime and was eventually forced into exile in France, where he remained a prominent figure in Tunisia's liberal opposition but angered many of his cohorts by working with the Islamist Ennahda movement. Marzouki returned home after Ben Ali's ouster and was elected president by the country's Constituent Assembly.The #18 spot goes to another Tunisian, Ahlem Belhadj of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women.