Pages: 1 2
The “Arab Spring,” the regional upheaval that swept Tunisia, Egypt and Libya over the past year, was supposed to mark the beginning of a new, more democratic Arab world. But if this week’s election results from Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, are any guide, the transition from entrenched autocracy to pluralistic democracy is by no means assured.
The first free election in Tunisia’s history brought to power an Islamist party, Nahda, that may yet jeopardize the country’s newly gained freedoms. Banned under President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, the dictator who brutally suppressed Islamist movements during his 23-year rule, Nahda won a new lease on life following Ali’s ouster last January. Now it has won an election. Early voting returns suggested that Nahda could have garnered as much as 50 percent of the vote, and the party was running first in every single voting district. Not entirely unforeseen, the success of Tunisia’s largest and best-organized Islamist party nevertheless raises worrying questions about whether a country that for years had been one of the most modern and secular in the Arab world will remain that way when Islamists have access to power.
There is ample reason for worry. Nahda’s founder, Rachid al-Ghannouchi, has repeatedly sought to put a friendly face on the party’s agenda, insisting that it would respect Tunisia’s secular tradition, including the rights of women to education and employment and the right to reject Islamic garb like headscarves. But that did not prevent Ghannouchi from trying to stir up voter support in the run-up to the election by appealing to more religiously conservative elements in the electorate. At one election rally, he instructed the audience that “God wants you to vote for the party that will protect your faith.” That party, of course, was Nahda.
Pages: 1 2