Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Tunisia continues to lead the Arab Spring

Photograph: Mohamed Messara/EPA

Tunisia continues to lead the Arab Spring, as secular Nidaa Tounes (translated as Tunis Calls) wins elections this week, defeating the Islamist Party, Ennahda, in the country’s first election under its new constitution. The past year has been dicey for Ennahda. It assumed power after Ben Ali was deposed, early in the Arab Spring.  However, following two high profile political assassinations of opposition political leaders, which lead to widespread civil unrest, the group ceded power to a caretaker administration while elections were scheduled. 

Tunisians surround an ambulance carrying the body of opposition leader Chokri Belaid in Tunis. Photograph: HAMMI/SIPA / Rex Features HAMMI/SIPA / Rex Features/HAMMI/SIPA / Rex Features

     Those elections took place this past week, with Nidaa Tounes winning 85 of 217 parliamentary seats to Ennahda’s 69.  Presidential elections were not held at the same time, but instead will occur later this month.  It is up to Nidaa Tounes to develop a coalition with other parties to form a governing majority, which requires 109 seats.  Unlike Egypt, where election victory resulted in a “winner take all” mentality, to the detriment of other political parties, Tunisia has worked very hard to embed coalition building into its constitution and political life.
     This election result mirrors public opinion surveys done in 2013 by the Arab AmericanInstitute (AAI).   At that time, Ennahda was “distrusted by almost three-quarters of the electorate”(seventy-two percent).  In fact, the only part of the electorate that did trust Ennahda were the Ennahda supporters themselves.  When AAI removed Ennahda supporters from the data, they found that ninety-five percent of Tunisians did not support the government. 
     Two other findings were especially important in the Tunisian research by AAI.  First, it was the ineffectiveness of the Ennahda government, not the fact that they were Islamist, that resulted in loss of trust.  Second, Tunisians looked for democratic means to oust Ennahda, in contrast to neighboring Egypt who ousted the Muslim Brotherhood with a military coup.  In Tunisia, a coalition of secular parties and the country’s trade union movement  were instrumental in the power change which happened peacefully in January. 
     It remains to be seen whether the election results will have any impact on Tunisian men joining foreign fighting groups inSyria.  Tunisians form almost three thousand of the twelve thousand foreign fighters currently in the area.  It is possible that a more inclusive and effective government at home, which is better able to provide economic opportunities, may stem the movement of young men out of the country. 

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