Tunisia election and the Islamist

In Al Arabiya Tunisia’s Islamists will steer clear of radicalism: analysts
The Islamist Ennahda party that emerged dominant in Tunisia’s first free vote will not seek to impose Sharia-style restraints on a moderate-minded society whose economy relies on Western tourists, analysts say.

The party, claiming to have taken a commanding lead as ballots were still being counted, has said it will seek a coalition on a new 217-member assembly that will rewrite the constitution and appoint a caretaker government.

Even if it manages to put together a majority alliance to give it a bigger say, Ennahda will have no choice but to toe the line of consensus, said the analysts.

“Ennahda will be mindful not to offend its coalition partners, and also the youth who voted for it, who aspire to a certain way of life,” Issaka Souare, a north African specialist at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, told AFP.

“It will need the buy-in of other members of the assembly in all decisions.”

Official results in Tunisia’s first-ever democratic elections, held nine months after the toppling of long-time dictator Zine ElAbidine Ben Ali, are expected Tuesday.

Ennahda on Monday claimed to have captured the biggest block of votes, between 20 and 40 percent, immediately seeking to allay the fears of investors and women.

“We would like to reassure our trade and economic partners, and all actors and investors, we hope very soon to have stability and the right conditions for investment in Tunisia,” executive party member Abdelhamid Jlassi told journalists in Tunis.

He stressed the party was open to coalition talks with all parties “without exception.” Most of the other parties on the assembly appear set to be ones with leftist, liberal leanings.

“We respect the rights of women ... and equality between Tunisians whatever their religion, their gender or their social status,” senior Ennahda member Nourreddine Bhiri told AFP.

Tunisia, which gave birth to the Arab Spring that claimed its latest dictator Thursday with the killing of Muammar Qaddafi of Libya, saw its neighbor to the east adopt Islamic Sharia law Sunday as the basis of all the new regime's laws.

Ennahda founder Rached Ghannouchi in the 1970s called for the strict application of Sharia law in Tunisia to restore order in a society he said had become depraved.

But he has toned down his discourse in recent years.

Last month, he told AFP: “The code of personal status and women’s rights cannot be touched. Women make up half of society and we need their votes.”

Secularists, women’s groups and other detractors accuse Ennahda of being moderate in public and radical in the mosques.

Whatever its program, “there is no chance that Ennahda will be able to dictate its laws into the new constitution, even with a coalition,” Tunisian historian Faycal Cherif told AFP.

“There are certain principles Tunisian society holds dear that the other parties will not concede on -- like gender equality, the separation of church and state.”

Pierre Vermeren, a Paris-based Maghreb expert, said Ennahda appeared headed for about a third of assembly seats “and won’t be able to do anything on its own.”

“The elections have also shown something else: the votes of the liberal, leftist and secular parties add up to about 25 to 30 percent, which is huge. One does not see that in any other country of the Maghreb.”

“Even though they haven't yet officially joined forces, these parties will be a strong force in the assembly.”

Added Cherif, Ennahda will keep an eye on upcoming national elections for a government to replace the caretaker body that will remain in place for the duration of the constitution-writing process, expected to take a year.

“Ennahda will not want to give the idea that it is forcing itself on society.”

Souare said a strong Ennahda will have no choice but to adapt its tone to a foreign audience.

“It cannot afford to damage Tunisia's relations with Western countries,” he said -- pointing to tourism which represents almost a tenth of GDP.

“Tourists are alcohol drinkers,” said Souare of fears by some that an Islamist government may ban liquor, among other conservative measures.

Tourism is a big currency earner in Tunisia, bringing in 780 million euros from January to September 2011, a drop of 39.4 percent from 2010.

Islam is the official religion in the country, which has hitherto had a secular state, though its president must be a Muslim under the outgoing constitution.

A Muslim majority of more than 90 percent has lived peacefully for years with religious minorities, including Jews.
The secularist are a little nervous about what will happen if the beards win power as seems likely.

The Vancouver Sun had this little anecdote:
Voters in the Billel polling station in the chic El Menzah district of the capital Tunis were having to wait up to two hours to cast their ballots.

But when Ghannushi, his wife, son and three daughters arrived to vote, officials in his entourage from his Ennahda party attempted to brush past the queue and go straight into the polling station.

There was an outraged roar from the lineup of voters. "The queue, the queue - democracy starts here," shouted someone while others chimed in with various angry comments that the era of special privilege in Tunisia had ended on Jan. 14 when Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, dictator for 24 years, fled into exile.

Abashed Ghannushi and his followers joined the back of the lineup and waited for two hours to vote, just like everyone else.
They've started respecting queue discipline, there's hope for them yet.
On NightWatch
Tunisia: Informal results from Sunday's elections indicate the Islamist party Ennahda won 43% of the vote and will be the party that forms a coalition government. Party leaders stressed they hope to form a national unity government.

Comment: The Arab Spring began in Tunisia and Tunisia is plotting its direction. One clear point is that the idea of secular government lost in the election, resulting from the turnout by a dedicated and better organized Islamist plurality. This is a study in democracy.
Ennahda's leader Ghannouchi is as venerable but presents a more progressive and tolerant face than the leadership of Egypt's very conservative MB. He's more in line with the younger wave of Islamists present in the Arab Spring, they will be watching Tunisia closely.
On NightWatch
Tunisia: Ennahda party officially was announced as the winner of the elections on 27 October, after having received 41.47 percent of the votes, according to the chairman of the election commission. Ennahda won 90 seats in the 217-member National Constituent Assembly. The Congress for the Republic came in second place, receiving 13.82 percent of the votes and representing 30 seats

Comment: The Islamists have won the right to direct the composition of the next Tunisian constitution and the formation of the interim government and to shape a Tunisian Islamic democracy.

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