ISSN 2330-717X

Tunisia Heading Toward Pluralism – OpEd

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By Mohyeddin Sajedi

The results of the Constituent Assembly elections in Tunisia, which suggests the victory of the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party, pave the way for the establishment of a political system based on plurality of opinions and parties in the country.

Now, Rached Ghannouchi, who was almost expelled from the country in the 1980s to continue his struggle against the Zine El Abidine Ben Ali regime from abroad, has become the preeminent person in Tunisia these days. At the time, his banishment has not upset any Western government.

Ben Ali was an ally of the Western powers and was seeking through dictatorial rule to enforce some of the policies favored by the West in the Tunisian society.

Western governments, which supported Ben Ali to the very last moment, gradually started to express their concern about the future of Tunisia or its neighboring country, Libya.

On the day Ben Ali fled the country, the French President Nicolas Sarkozy was intending to send him a plane full of anti-riot equipment. This comes while France foreign minister was Ben Ali’s special guest the day before. Is France entitled to be worried about the future of Tunisia and the change of some rules in it?

Rached Ghannouchi is a devout Islamist, whose thoughts are close to those of Muslim Brotherhood. He who had once travelled to Saudi Arabia to participate in the Hajj ceremony was expelled from the country because of his sharp criticism of the Wahhabi religion. Reportedly some radical Islamist parties have condemned him as an infidel. Similarly, his irreligious opponents accused him during the election of receiving financial help from a number of Arab states in the Persian Gulf. These contradictory allegations did not change the mind of the Tunisians as Ghannouchi managed to lead his party to an important victory.

In fact, he is inclined to implement the model of the allied Islamist party in Turkey, so Tunisia under his rule will continue to expand its relations with the Western countries.

The Tunisian revolution inspired other Arab uprisings across the Middle East and undoubtedly the election and democratic transformation in Tunisia will be watched and tracked by people in all Arab and foreign countries. It is often said that the Western governments have tried after the shockwave of the Tunisian revolution to infiltrate the country and use their old influence there. Now, there is no doubt that this influence will continue to be wielded by economic factors. Europe is Tunisia’s greatest trade partner. Some European factories have set up branches in Tunisia, which have been subsumed into its economy. Yet, the way the Western states treat and interact with the new Tunisia will determine the degree of their political influence on the country. But, demanding excessively from a transforming society can backfire.

Radical Salafi groups in Tunisia had either banned participation in the election or did not take part without taking a clear position. They are not influential forces in the Tunisian society. A 90-percent election turnout proved that those opposing to the election were not among effective social forces. However, the political system which is gradually evolving in the country cannot just ignore them. Otherwise, it would be facing dire problems in the future as Salafis in some Islamic countries have already proven their willingness to lay down their lives to achieve their goals.

If Ennahda Islamic Party represents rational and moderate form of the political Islam in Tunisia, there are also non-religious parties which have also won many seats in the Constituent Assembly whose tendencies are also moderate. There is ample ground for cooperation between religious and non-religious moderate currents. No political party in Tunisia seems to be willing to distance from democracy and party politics. Under such conditions, it will be always possible for the opposition to voice its positions and criticize the future government by holding street rallies. The problem is that the leftovers of the former President Ben Ali’s regime will lose no opportunity to take advantage of free conditions and restore their influence. At least, two parliamentary seats have been won by a former foreign minister who is known for his support for Ben Ali.

The main duty of the Tunisian Constituent Assembly is to run the country’s affairs through the transition period. Formulation of a new constitution, electing new president and prime minister, and providing grounds for the forthcoming parliamentary election on the basis of the new constitution are the main tasks of the Constituent Assembly. Selection of officials for key posts by the Constituent Assembly will be the result of a political agreement rather than that of a single Tunisian party. Even if Ennahda Islamic Party had won all parliamentary seats, it would not have tried to go its own way by ignoring other parties. Experiences with many revolutions have proven that the interim governments shoulder a heavy responsibility and policies they adopt to steer the society toward new conditions proportionate to people’s revolutionary demands usually lead to difficult judgments about them. As a result, they may even lose power for good.

Tunisia did not follow a powerful foreign diplomacy under Ben Ali. Although it was chosen as the base of the Arab League for a while or hosted Palestinian leaders after leaving Lebanon, it did not play a powerful role in regulating regional relations, at least, with regard to the Arab Maghreb. Will the new Tunisia pay more attention to its domestic problems in transition period? At least it should be made clear whether the new Tunisian government will ask for the extradition of Ben Ali from Saudi Arabia.

Press TV

Press TV is a 24-hour English language global news network owned by Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). Its headquarters are located in Tehran, Iran. Press TV carries news analysis, documentary talk shows and sports news worldwide with special focus on West Asia, Central Asia, and the Middle East.

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