The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged nahda
Tunisia's Ennahda won't contest presidency

Le Monde reports on the crisis in Tunisia, after the murder of Mohammed Brahmi and eight soldiers at the Algerian border, now compounded by the Egyptian June 30. As rumored for a few weeks, this suggests Ennahda has officially taken a decision not to present a presidential candidate in elections next year:  

Devant l'urgence de la situation, les débats internes sont mis en sourdine. "Le courant dur chez nous est mis à la retraite", assure ce responsable. Des décisions devraient sous peu être annoncées, comme celle, prise depuis un moment mais encore jamais rendue publique, qu'Ennahda ne présentera pas de candidat à la prochaine élection présidentielle.

Of course, circumstances can change (as they did for the Brothers in Egypt, although they must regret that choice) and a new decision on the presidency can be made next year. Or they can choose to back a third-party candidate (or indeed even President Moncef Marzouki, the incumbent, for re-election as he has been fairly loyal to the Troika alliance). But it shows the events in Egypt have had their impact. 

On Nahda's victory in Tunisia

I am about to leave Tunisia — I'm writing this from the airport — and wanted to write a few thoughts down before I left, as I promised in my post two days ago. It's still not clear what the final results are, as the Election Commission is taking a very long time to count the votes and make sure there are no errors. I don't think any election has been as meticulously scrutinized, ever! But it's clear that Nahda has won a plurality of seats in the constituent assembly — right now they are projected as having won at least 32% of seats, far less than the 47% I was hearing on Monday. I suspect the final result will show them in the low 40s. Even at 32%, they still obtained twice the number of seats as the second party, the CPR.

Now, there are all sorts of allegations floating about. Some say Nahda supporters were told to vote CPR in part, and some hardline secularists view CPR as  a Trojan horse for Nahda. This is a bit much, as CPR also benefited from a strong campaign (or so I've been told) and the personality of longtime dissident Moncef Marzouki.

The same allegations are made of the big surprise of this election, the rise of the new party Aridha Chaabia, headed by exiled businessman Hachmi Hamdi. Hamdi owns the London-based TV station al-Mustaqila (which got into a little trouble with Ben Ali but also at times offered him praise) and did particularly well in the south, notably Sidi Bouzid, where he promised all sorts of outlandish things (land plots, money to the unemployed, etc.) Some have also alleged that Nahda backed Aridha Chaabia, and Hamdi has some Islamist views. It's not clear where his money comes from, but one suspects Saudi Arabia (he hosts Wahabi sheikhs on his station.) His overall style is Islamo-populist, a pretty common political vein in the Arab world.

So in the view of some conspiracy-minded secularists, the top three parties have tied to the Islamist movement. This seems a bit much for me to swallow, reflects the worry of some in the posh northern suburb of Tunis and no doubt elsewhere. (Remember, none of these parties have run on a platform that promised explicitly Islamist policies).

My own view is that while Aridha's success needs to be explained more thoroughly (and there is talk that there might be violations of campaign financing for the party, which could lead to the cancellation of its victories), Nahda's success is pretty straight-forward. Simply put, the party was widely seen as the best-organized, the clearest in its convictions, and the most distant from Ben Ali. There also seems to be a buy-in to the idea that these religiously minded people will bring a back-to-basics, honest approach to governance that is much-needed after the highway robbery of the Ben Ali regime. I did not get the feeling that Nahda voters went with the party overwhelmingly because they wanted specific religious policies implemented.

It'll be really interesting to break down the final results when they come out, as because of the electoral system (largest remainder list-based) a huge chunk of votes for small parties and independent lists will not count towards seats. Perhaps 20-30% of the votes went to these lists that did not obtain a seat. Furthermore, it will be interesting to see how the popular vote breaks down: Nahda probably got a larger percentage of the popular vote than the percentage of seats it obtained, for instance. 

It's been frustrating having to wait for detailed breakdowns — notably for journalists for wires and dailies for whom yesterday was practically a wasted day, since the story did not really progress. But for wonks, looking at that final data will be really interesting. Take a look at preliminary results here.

Tunisia's Nahda and Islamists post-revolutions

There's a good piece on Nahda, the Tunisian Islamist party, by Graham Usher at MERIP which is a good antidote to some of the more alarmist "the Islamists are coming!" stuff:

Compared with other parts of Tunisia’s new political order, however, Nahda looks well placed. Analysts say the movement came out well from the tumult of Tunisia’s second revolution. Its national structure gives it an edge over the dispersal of votes likely to be caused by the spread of new parties. “Nahda has a base,” says the trade unionist Abdelkifi, who is no Islamist. “Tunisians are religious. It will attract those who do not know where to go.” Ghannouchi says if Nahda "gets a 30-35 percent vote for the constituent assembly, we’ll be very happy." Others will be alarmed by such a proportion, and not only in Tunisia. The 35 percent figure is probably hype, say observers, though 25 percent is possible. But the truth is that nobody really knows the depth of Nahda’s base, or that of any other party, due to the extreme de-politicization of Tunisian society during the Ben Ali era.

And there are other reasons why it is hard to assess Nahda’s weight. As it was banned from 1991 to 2011, most Tunisians under 30 (54 percent of the population, according to the country’s National Institute of Statistics) have no experience of the movement as a political organization. Political Islam for them can mean anything from Turkey’s Justice and Development Party to al-Qaeda, but it is always geographically distant. But older Tunisians, particularly from the more affluent urban middle classes, do have personal memories of Nahda -- and most are unpleasant. They remember how, in the 1980s, earlier incarnations of Nahda bombed hotels, threatening Tunisia's vital tourist industry. And how, in 1991, Nahda militants attacked an RCD office in Tunis, killing one civilian, and throwing acid in the faces of others. For many Tunisians, these incidents raised the specter of an Algeria-like civil war, a fear that Ben Ali’s regime stoked at every opportunity. Twenty years later, the specter has yet to be exorcised among Tunisia’s secular elite.

That applies to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt too — we just don't have a good read yet on what the emerging political landscape will be, because real politics were absent for decades. The Islamists will do well, no doubt, but it's not a question of Islamists vs. regime anymore. Other ideas, movements and personalities are emerging that could very well take away from their support.