Islamist democratic victory in Tunisia

Reuters reports: Tunisian electoral officials confirmed the Islamist Ennahda party as winner of the North African country’s election, setting it up to form the first Islamist-led government in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings.

But the election, which has so far confounded predictions it would tip the country into crisis, turned violent when protesters angry their fourth-placed party was eliminated from the poll set fire to the mayor’s office in a provincial town.

Ennahda has tried to reassure secularists nervous about the prospect of Islamist rule in one of the Arab world’s most liberal countries by saying it will respect women’s rights and not try to impose a Muslim moral code on society.

The Islamists won power 10 months after Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian vegetable seller in the town of Sidi Bouzid, set fire to himself in an act of protest that led to the fall of Tunisia’s leader and inspired uprisings in Egypt and Libya.

“We salute Sidi Bouzid and its sons who launched the spark and we hope that God will have made Mohamed Bouazizi a martyr,” said Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi, a soft-spoken Islamic scholar who spent 22 years in exile in Britain.

“We will continue this revolution to realize its aims of a Tunisia that is free, independent, developing and prosperous in which the rights of God, the Prophet, women, men, the religious and the non-religious are assured because Tunisia is for everyone,” Ghannouchi told a crowd of cheering supporters.

Announcing the results, election commission members said Ennahda had won 90 seats in the 217-seat assembly, which will draft a new constitution, form an interim government and schedule new elections, probably for early 2013.

The Islamists’ nearest rival, the secularist Congress for the Republic, won 30 seats, the commission members told a packed hall in the capital, ending a four-day wait since Sunday’s poll for the painstaking count to be completed.

Issandr El Amrani writes: Initially, Tunisia’s transition was extremely fragile. Ministers associated with the old regime remained in place, chaos was sown by remnants of the old ruling party, and a million grievances were expressed at the same time, overwhelming a fragile government. Over time, after revolutionary forces exercised concerted pressure, things stabilized: more acceptable ministers were appointed, a transition roadmap was agreed upon, and major political forces forged a consensus. At the same time, institutions of the state — old and new — maintained order and, most notably, prepared the ground for the election administratively and politically. This included months of preparations and training for election officials and putting together a remarkable get-out-the-vote campaign with the help of international election specialists.

Why Tunisia’s election is such a resounding success, in other words, is no mystery: the Tunisians worked very hard to ensure that it would be. The result is that while there are still cynics and some who are unhappy with the result, most Tunisians have bought into the new system and feel confident that, if the new assembly does not meet their aspirations, they will be able to pressure it on the street or through the ballot box at the next poll.

In comparison, the way the Egyptian elections have been handled is a disaster. The authorities repeatedly ignored the desire of the vast majority of political forces for a fully proportional, list-based system. They finally offered an agreement on a system that was two-thirds list-based and one-third single-winner-based, only two months before the poll, which was only reluctantly accepted by parties. The final delimitation of districts was still uncertain as candidate registration opened, making the parties’ electoral planning difficult, to say the least.

Moreover, the SCAF has continued the Mubarak-era policy of opposing foreign monitoring missions, despite this being a widespread practice around the world. In Tunisia, thousands of international monitors did not undermine national sovereignty; they added to the credibility of a well-run process. The concession made in Egypt to the Carter Center and other missions to allow “observers” rather than “monitors” is simply not good enough; it is only by beginning their work long before the actual poll is held and having unfettered access to the organizing agencies and every step of the voting process that monitoring agencies can truly certify the legitimacy of an election. It does not help that the international community currently seems to be placing more emphasis on the elections happening then on them being credible.

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2 thoughts on “Islamist democratic victory in Tunisia

  1. Christopher Hoare

    Our local paper this week had an article by Gwynne Dyer pointing out that there is a considerable difference between ‘Islamist’ and Islamic…not that the US media and administration understands it. Annahda is an Islamic party, similar to the current Turkish governing party, that wishes government to operate with Islamic values —much like Christain Democratic parties in Europe. Islamists are generally more fanatical, with the spectrum spanning those governments governing strictly according to the Koran…ie Saudi Arabia… to those seeking to seize control of the state…ie Taliban.

    One can hardly be surprised that the Egyptians are having a difficult time achieving a recognisable democracy like Tunisia’s with the US and Israel meddling behind the scenes with their croneys in the military and SCAF. Both are trying to continue the military led dictatorship that the Tahrir Sq. protests almost brought down. ‘Almost’ because Washington and Jerusalem are standing in the way.

  2. scottindallas


    There is no organic distinction, the distinction is one she’s using. Perhaps others will too. Just as here, both of these groups might well argue that they are rooted in the Quran, just as Christians derive an equivocal reading of the Bible. The problem is that this distinction is not one they would make, so, we really just left with a pejorative term that will be wielded, no doubt, against regimes we don’t like.

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