Political Pluralism breaks out in Tunisia

Tunisia’s election outcome gives 41% to the Muslim fundamentalist party Al-Nahda. One of the other two winners is the Rally for the Republic– of long-time political exile Moncef al-Marzouqi. Then the third major party is al-Takattul or the Democratic Forum for Labor and Freedoms, headed by Mustapha Ben Jaafar.

The latter two mentioned are secular, and al-Nahda needs these secular allies to run the government, not to mention achieve a majority. The al-Nahda fundamentalist party, moreover, told me last June that they want a pluralist system that makes a place for believing Muslims, but that they will not dictatorially impose policies on one another. I asked about liquor and they admitted that they would try to discourage drinking. But they said they would do so by increasing taxes on alcohol, just as governments have done with smoking.

If the al-Nahda semi-victory (they did not get the majority and so did not ‘win’ in the American sense) contributes to an opening up of Tunisia to a variety of styles of life, if it makes Tunisia more multi-cultural, then that would be all to the good. There is an admitted danger that al-Nahda will try to limit freedom of speech. Tunisia is now the only Arab country without print censorship, and you wonder if that will last. Marzouqi and al-Takattul bear a special responsibility for keeping Tunisia free.

The French newspaper Le Monde pointed out that this pluralist outcome is far superior to what happened in Algeria in fall, 1991, when the Islamic Salvation Front won 66% of seats in parliament, allowing them to tinker with the constitution. The secular Algerian military intervened to stop what they saw as a Muslim fundamentalist juggernaut, and they dissolved parliament. Angry Algerians then threw the country into a civil war that lasted some 15 years and generated over 100,000 deaths. The compromising, less rigid stance of the Tunisians is likely to allow them to avoid that kind of conflict.

Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Responses | Print |

13 Responses

  1. Financial irregularities by secular left wing Popular List party results in candidate disqualification. Popular List is led by Hachmi Hamdi a London based exile, Hamdi was born & raised in Sidi Bouzid.

    Protests hit Sidi Bouzid after historic Tunisia poll link to bbc.co.uk

  2. As a liberal and a small d democrat, nothing could make me happier than watching a Muslim fundamentalist party have to actually govern for a term, and then have to face the voters in the next election.

    • I could not agree more with the proposition of watching a Muslim fundamentalist party take power, actually govern, and then face the voters in the next election. But that assumes that the Muslim fundamentalist party in power will not change the constitution to place obstacles in the way of anyone but a Muslim fundamentalist from running for high office. It is not unheard of in history to use the democratic system to gain power and, once in power, to use it to force through measures that end up thwarting democracy.

    • … you mean like the Muslim “fundamentalists” in Turkey. Erm, they seem to carry on winning elections. Or the Muslim “fundamentalist” Green Movement in Iran.

      This blinkered view that all Ismalist movements are “fundamentalist” and non-democratic is surprisingly prevalent among even liberals and academics in the West.

      • Read my post a bit more carefully, Abadass Tehrani, and you will see that I made no such claim that all Islamist movements are fundamentalist and non-democratic. That is your blinkered statement, not mine. I simply stated that it is not unheard of that movements use the democratic system to gain power, then, once in power, use it to thwart democracy. I applied it to the possibility of Muslim fundamentalist parties acting in such a fashion. I did not say they would. Methinks you doth protest too much.

  3. Sidi Bouzid was the center of the revolution. Now they’re being told that their votes don’t count (at least the majority of them that voted for the Popular List). The other day members of Al-Nahda were calling the people of Sidi Bouzid ignorant and stupid because few of them voted for Al-Nahda.

  4. I note that the choice of electoral system prevents one party rule. The key practical issue is will that remain the case under the new constitution. I can well immagine the bigest party wanting a majoritarian system instead. So they can have a majority on there own. Disqualifying parties or candidates for irregularities is normal under all election systems; is the ruling on Popular list valid?

  5. Does it matter that the main goal of the elections was to determine who would appoint the interim government and to lead a Constitutional convention under which, once passed, the real governing is supposed to begin?

  6. Is the Christian Democrat party in Germany a “fundamentalist” party? Or is it only those parties who reference Islam that are labelled as such?

  7. “The compromising, less rigid stance of the Tunisians is likely to allow them to avoid that kind of conflict.” By that do you mean the fact the military didn’t annul the elections. That is what you regard as a compromise…to not use military force to prevent the will of the Tunisian (or Algerian) people to have an Islam based government. The debate is so skewed against Muslims having their rights that you can suggest it is a sign of compromise not to spark a war against the populous. What a strange world we live in!

  8. Hello,
    Just three points:
    (1.) I think any comparison of Al-Nahda or even the Turkish Ak-Party to the actual CDU — the German Christian Democrates — is mistaken. The CDU has become quite liberal (in the sense of pluralistic, not left-wing) over the last two or three decades. In fact, a German journalist compared the moderate members (!) of Al-Nahda to the CDU of the 20s.
    (2.) The AK-Party of Turkey is hopefully on the way to become a more an more moderate Muslim Party on a level with the CDU, but you shouldn’t forget that they face and have faced a strong secular opposition in Turkey. In 2002 (or 2003?) they tried to make adultery a legal crime; only when there was a huge outcry in public, they buried the idea — hopefully for good. So the AK-Party had to become more moderate if it wanted to stay the number one party in Turkey.
    (3.) So the interesting question is how Al-Nahda will develop in the course of the coming month and years. Will it move in the direction of the AK-Party or move to (resp. stay) where the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt is today?

Comments are closed.