Jewish candidate in Tunisia finds victory in defeat

Restaurant owner turned politician says he achieved his goal by showing that non-Muslims can take part in the nation’s first democratic elections.

October 26, 2011 01:01
2 minute read.
Election workers count ballots in Tunisia

Election workers count ballots in Tunisia 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi)


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Jacob Lellouche, the only Jew who ran in the Tunisian elections, claimed victory on Tuesday despite failing to win a seat in parliament.

The restaurant owner turned politician said he achieved his goal by showing his countrymen that non-Muslims can take part in the nation’s first democratic elections.

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One man proving Jews can be part of Tunisian politics

“I succeeded because now the people know you can come from a minority and still be involved in politics,” he said over the phone from Tunis. “I accomplished my mission.”

Lellouche said the Union, Popular and Republican Party that placed him second on its list of candidates did not come close to entering parliament, according to unofficial reports. Still, he has not given up on being elected to public office.

“I think there are a lot of elections in front of us, such as for the municipality,” he said. “The play is open.”

Lellouche said he wasn’t concerned over the expected victory of the Islamist Ennahda party. The future of the country “is not all black or white, but also has a lot of grey.”

But the president of Tunisia’s Jewish community on Tuesday expressed concern over the expected Ennahda triumph.

Roger Bismuth, who heads the organization representing the country’s 1,500 Jews, said shortly before the results were announced that he was monitoring the situation closely.

“If Ennahda is going to win a majority of the seats in parliament, it is a problem, because then you replace one dictatorship with another,” Bismuth said. “If you follow their promises during the campaign, nothing will happen, because they said they wouldn’t be extreme and would support human rights, but you never know.”

Ennahda, which was widely expected to become the largest faction in parliament, was banned by the previous regime and espouses a moderate form of Islam similar to Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party.

Bismuth said the nature of the coalition that the party is expected to form will be crucial in guiding the political path in which it decides to steer the country of some 11 million people.

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