Election in Tunisia key to democratic Arab future


OPINION:My Ennahda party is tipped to do well in Tunisia’s historic election. But what’s important is that democracy triumphs

TUNISIA IS two days from its first elections for a national constituent assembly. Despite delays and obstructions, Tunisians anticipate October 23rd with immense hope – a culmination of their revolution, of the struggle of generations of women and men of diverse persuasions against despotism and for freedom, equality and dignity.

These elections are not only critical for Tunisia, but for the wider region and beyond. They present a chance to bury once and for all theories of the so-called “Arab exception” and to prove democracy can flourish here.

In these elections, Ennahda is, according to several opinion polls, set to win a considerable share of the vote. Our popularity is partly due to the sympathy felt by many towards Ennahda’s suffering over three decades under successive dictatorships. However, this sympathy and Ennahda’s record in the struggle for freedom and democracy are no longer sufficient. Immense challenges call for specific and effective programmes. Tunisia needs a new political system, a decisive break with the past.

We have long advocated democracy within the mainstream trend of political Islam, which we feel is the best system to protect against injustice and authoritarianism. It also provides institutions and mechanisms to guarantee personal and public liberties, most importantly the peaceful transfer of power through elections, respect of the popular will, protection of women’s rights, separation of powers, independence of the judiciary, media freedom, and protection of minority rights. All these in no way contradict Islam, but reflect its principles of consultation, justice and accountability as we understand them.

Campaigns of misinformation against Ennahda have not ended with the dictator’s departure. Charges of theocratic tendencies continue to be levelled at us. However, we believe in a civic state, based on equality between all citizens, regardless of faith, gender or race. God says in the Koran that “There is no compulsion in religion”; therefore we believe that neither the state nor any social actor has the right to interfere in society to impose a certain lifestyle, belief or idea. These should be matters of free personal choice.

Our manifesto and election campaign stress again that we call for protecting women’s rights and promotion of their public and political participation. Our support for the quota system requiring parties to field equal numbers of women and men, and the many party lists headed by women are examples of that commitment.

An equally urgent need for Tunisia is a comprehensive development plan to deal with its deep economic crisis and persistent socioeconomic injustices. The economic system we outline encourages private entrepreneurship and initiative, and provides incentives for investment – all within the context of transparency and social justice. We seek to make our country a thriving and attractive centre for domestic and foreign investment.

However, regardless of the election results, we believe the country needs to be ruled by a broad-based national unity government. We do not believe in the inevitability of ideological polarisation or the so-called religious-secular clash, but rather in our country’s need for a real national partnership between its diverse intellectual and political components. No one party can single-handedly provide solutions for problems accumulated over decades. We hope that Tunisia will provide an inspiring example of Islamic-secular co-operation for the greater national interest.

We are committed to strengthening our partnership with our neighbours in Europe and we are keen to achieve advanced partner status with the EU. We also plan to strengthen our relationship with our neighbours in north Africa by working to reactivate the union of the Maghreb countries, achieving a free trade area that will be to the benefit of all countries involved.

The implementation of this ambitious plan should be for the benefit of those who have offered us, and the whole region, this historic opportunity – at the forefront of whom are young Tunisians whose courage and defiance of dictatorship have brought hope and motivation to the region and amazed the world.

This is why I announced that I would not be standing for any political posts in these or any future elections, as I would like to see the younger generation play a leading role in shaping the future of our country.

Finally I would like to emphasise that for us in Ennahda, the most important issue is not winning the forthcoming elections but rather a successful transition towards democracy so that we can make a clear break with the past. We believe that this success is not only of crucial importance to our country, but also to both shores of the Mediterranean – because the consequences of failure will be disastrous for all. – (GuardianService)

Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of Tunisia’s Ennahda party, is seen throughout the region as a key figure in the emerging moderate Islamist movements