Ennahda party Tunisia 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
TUNIS – Moderate Islamists claimed victory on Monday in Tunisia’s
first democratic election, sending a message to other states in the region that
long-sidelined Islamists are challenging for power after the “Arab
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Official results have not been announced, but the Ennahda party
said its workers had tallied the results posted at polling stations after
Sunday’s vote – the first since the uprisings that began in Tunisia and spread
through the region.
“The first confirmed results show Ennahda has
obtained first place,” campaign manager Abdelhamid Jlazzi said outside party
headquarters in the center of the Tunisian capital.
As he spoke, a crowd
of more than 300 in the street shouted “Allahu Akbar!” Other people started
singing the Tunisian national anthem.
Mindful that some people in Tunisia
and elsewhere see the resurgence of Islamists as a threat to modern, liberal
values, the party officials stressed that Ennahda would not try to monopolize
“We will spare no effort to create a stable political alliance...
We reassure the investors and international economic partners,” Jlazzi
Sunday’s vote was for an assembly that will sit for one year to
draft a new constitution.
It will also appoint a new interim president
and government to run the country until fresh elections late next year, or early
The voting system has built-in checks and balances, which make
it nearly impossible for any one party to have a majority.
therefore be forced to seek alliances with secularist parties, diluting its
“This is an historic moment,” said Zeinab Omri, a young woman
in a hijab, who was outside the Ennahda headquarters when party officials
“No one can doubt this result.
This result shows
very clearly that the Tunisian people is a people attached to its Islamic
identity,” she said.
Tunisia became the birthplace of the Arab Spring
when Mohamed Bouazizi, a vegetable seller in a provincial town, set fire to
himself in protest of poverty and government repression.
provoked a wave of protests, which, weeks later, forced autocratic president
Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia.
The revolution in
Tunisia, a former French colony, in turn inspired uprisings that forced out
entrenched leaders in Egypt and Libya, and convulsed Yemen and Syria – reshaping
the political landscape of the Middle East.
Ennahda is led by Rachid
Ghannouchi, who was forced into exile in Britain for 22 years because of
harassment by Ben Ali’s police.
A soft-spoken scholar, he dresses in
suits and opennecked shirts, while his wife and daughter wear the
Ghannouchi is at pains to stress his party will not enforce any
code of morality on Tunisian society, or on the millions of Western tourists who
holiday on its beaches. He models his approach on the moderate Islamism of
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The party’s rise is met with
ambivalence by some people in Tunisia. The country’s strong secularist
traditions go back to the first post-independence president, Habiba Bourguiba,
who called the hijab an “odious rag.”
Outside the offices of the
commission that organized the election, about 50 people staged a sit-in
demanding an investigation into what they said were irregularities committed by
“I really feel a lot of fear and concern after this result,”
said Meriam Othmani, a 28-year-old journalist. “Women’s rights will be eroded,”
she said. “And also, you’ll see the return of dictatorship once Ennahda achieves
a majority in the constituent assembly.”
The only official results
released were from polling stations abroad, because they voted early.
election commission said that out of 18 seats in the 217- seat assembly
allocated to the Tunisian diaspora, nine went to Ennahda.