jeudi 17 novembre 2011

Goodbye Tunisia and all the best



This is the last post of Tunisia Elections. Not that there aren’t any more important issues to discuss in Tunisian politics (quite the opposite) but the initial objective was to cover activities surrounding the first election in this country, which is now done.

To date, the majority of steps required to begin the work of the Constituent Assembly have been completed. Protests and contestations of the election results are over, negotiations between major parties (Ennahda, Congress for the Republic and Ettakatol) to form a government are ongoing (despite the temporary withdrawal of Ettakatol) and the date for the first day of the Constituent Assembly has been set for November 22nd.

Moreover, the emplacement where the new Assembly will be has been chosen unanimously between the eight parties that garnered the most votes in the election. The Tunisian parliamentarians will work at the former location of the Chamber of Bardo (article in French).

My personal impressions of Tunisia

Let’s start with the numerous positive aspects. Tunisia is a wonderful country with magnificent ruins, beaches, coastal areas, hills, an enormous desert, small villages, water basins and incredibly beautiful and breathtaking landscapes.

Tunis, the capital, has no reason to be envious of the world’s biggest cities and the famous Bourguiba Avenue is bursting with attractive cafés and restaurants serving great food.

In fact, food is one of the things I appreciated the most in Tunisia. No matter where you come from and whatever your culinary habits are, it’s practically impossible not to enjoy the traditional meals of this country.

All servings and sandwiches composed of meat, from chicken to chawarma, and the always excellent « plat escalope » are a carnivore’s dream (I can testify).

The one and only Tunisian couscous.
And my favourite dish of all is THE famous couscous. Either with fish or chicken, I’ve never eaten a couscous as good as the Tunisian one. No doubt, it will be the last meal I eat before leaving in a few days.

But above all, what is the most remarkable in Tunisia is its citizens. Rarely have I seen people as kind, friendly and always ready to help you. With its relatively young population, Tunisia is no doubt destined for a fabulous future.

Politics

On the political side, the democratic transition since the end of the regime in January 2011 is as remarkable as it is impressive.

In less than 10 months, Tunisia has managed to rid itself of a dictatorship and hold free and transparent elections worthy in all aspects of the great democracies of the world.

Add to that the fact that the proceedings were overseen by an independent organization (High Authority for the Achievement of the Revolution) that didn’t refrain from taking courageous decisions such as excluding extremist religious parties, gender equality on electoral lists and so on.

What is Tunisia’s political future? It’s difficult to say. It all depends on the success of the Constituent Assembly and the next election coming up in a year. Up to now, the parties seem willing to collaborate. It remains to be seen if this will continue during the negotiations regarding the constitution and especially when discussions will involve aspects on which parties have different points of view (legislative system – presidential or parliamentarian).

One thing is certain though. If a parliamentary system with a single chamber is instituted, Islamists will probably govern the country for a number of years. On the other hand, if a presidential system is chosen, we should see a more equitable sharing of power between progressives and Islamists. My detailed opinion on the subject can be found in the following article.

Disappointments

Now some negative aspects. I was disappointed with two groups: the Islamists and the Progressives (I combine political parties and independents).

The Progressives, by their refusal to face reality, offered the election to Ennahda on a silver platter. That’s the consequence of not having a united front and presenting hundreds of different political platforms.

While Progressives were arguing amongst themselves, in spite of often presenting almost identical political programs, Islamists were united and managed to garner all the religious votes to finish way ahead with 41% of the seats and 37% of the votes. I discussed the topic in this article.

Cumulatively, Progressives finished with more than 50% of all the votes. A quick prediction: if Progressives don’t find a way to form a coalition before the next election, Ennahda will again finish first. This time though, Islamists might have a majority depending on the electoral system used. In the last election, the mixed proportional balloting system was chosen, which greatly favors small parties.

The Islamists

As for the Islamists, my opinion substantially changed only a few days ago. When I started this blog, I intentionally ignored any prefabricated opinions about them. Ennahda constantly repeated during the election campaign that it cherished a modern Islam that wouldn’t restrain the rights of any individual.

Ennahda's leader, Rached
Ghannouchi.
Many media, especially the French, accused them of using a double speech. Others simply treated them as extremists or even criminals with evidence supporting their allegations. It’s the case of a ruling of the Canadian Federal Court of Appeals in 2003, Zrig v. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration where we could note that the Canadian status section qualifies Ennahda as a “movement which supports the use of violence and uses terrorist methods” and that is involved in “assassinations and bombings” .

Concerning their leader Rached Ghannouchi, it states that “he is a terrorist and is considered by certain sources as one of the masterminds of terrorism”. Also, the ruling mentions that ‘he called for violence against the U.S. and threatened to destroy its interests in the Arab world. He also demanded the destruction of the state of Israel”.

In addition, the General Secretary of the party, Hamadi Jebali, is suspected by many of having participated in terrorist acts on August 2nd 1987 where four explosions occurred at the same time in Sousse and Monastir hotels wounding 13 people.

In spite of all these elements, I focused only (rightly or wrongly) on their actions and engagements since last January’s uprising and even considered them as “moderates” in certain articles that I wrote. Ennahda often asks its accusers to “wait and see how we will act before criticizing us”.

So it’s exactly what I did and today I feel as if I’ve been caught. Unfortunately I now believe the party uses a double speech and that its leaders are hiding a certain religious agenda to the population. Recent disconcerting declarations by Souad Abderrahim, Ennahda’s star candidate who supposedly embodies “modernism”, combined with the party leaders reluctance to comment, is overwhelming  proof of that.

For those who haven’t heard, she said that “single mothers don’t have the right to exist” and that “there is no place in Tunisia for absolute liberty”. A few days before that she also revealed that “Ennahda doesn’t plan to close nightclubs but will put into practice proper moral behaviour”.

I might add that what surprised me the most wasn’t Ms. Abderrahim’s declarations but the lack of indignation in most of the population. In fact, not all newspapers commented on the subject and except for a few young people on social networks, there was little denunciation of her statements.

Souad Abderrahim, Ennahda's controversial
candidate.
Is this a sign that many Tunisians secretly share a similar opinion? Lofti Achour, a well known film producer, says so in a fascinating article well worth reading on his Facebook page (in French). His theory is that many people support Ennahda but don’t dare say so in public which might explain the party’s success in the last election. The obvious facts are that poor regions aren’t the only areas who voted massively for them. Even in the Diaspora and Tunis ridings, their results were as high.

Whatever is said and in spite of circumstances being better than in any other Arab country, there is work to be done before mentalities evolve – on things such as the rights of women and especially of homosexuals, a very taboo subject.

The best moments

My most enjoyable experience is unquestionably meeting bloggers of the Revolution. Azyz Amami, Adib Samoud and Sanda Salakta of Regards Vigilants are fascinating individuals. They are very young and have already unique experience that many can’t even imagine or will ever know.

I was also fortunate to meet politicians with promising futures. Wajdi Elleuch, an active member of Afek Tounes, who has a doctorate in engineering from Sherbrooke university, is one of them. He allowed me to accompany a head of list candidate, Chokri Yaich, for a day of the election campaign in a poor area.

One day in the election campaign following Afek Tounes'
head of list candidate in Sfax 2, Chokri Yaich.
It was very enriching and I was able to witness the significant differences between those areas and richer cities of the north. M. Yaich was elected and he will be one of the four representatives of Afek Tounes in the Constituent Assembly.

Congratulations also to CPR’s Mabrouka M’barek, with whom I made conducted an interview. She was elected in the Americas and rest of Europe riding.

A special mention to the mayor of Sidi Bou Saïd and member of PDM, Raouf Daklahoui, for whom double-talk is an unknown concept and also to three young politicians, Wafa Madder, Omezzine Khelifa and Arabiya Kousri who will eventually find themselves in the Tunisian Parliament.

I can’t forget the group of people at Tunisia-live.net, the best source of information in the country. This young team of exceptional journalists contributes to the development and notoriety of Tunisia on an international scale.

On a complete different topic, here is a short humorous song (in French) about the election that was very popular on the social networks in Tunisia:

  

Thanks and a personal plug.

This blog, as basic as it is, required the help of numerous people I wish to thank. Firstly, the folks at the Prince Arthur Herald and Marc-Olivier Fortin who published my articles on their platform.

Secondly, Carole Gagné, a very talented lady for whom the French language has no secrets. In addition to her abilities, she’s a tireless colleague. The same goes for Bernard Bujold, a computer whiz whose advice was instrumental in getting the blog going. The press card he supplied me with was very useful in getting to attend many events. He is the proud founder of an internet journal which has over 50,000 followers: LeStudio1.

The articles of this blog were
published on the Prince Arthur
Herald.
For the English version of my articles, I must thank Marcus McCormick and Marco Ferraro. They are translation workhorses who paid attention to small details and put in a lot of time.

A big thank you also to Sameh Krichah, a very intelligent young activist involved in numerous organisations, which you will soon see in the media and on the political front.

Finally, in the name of all the international students who participated in the Call for a Rise project, I want to express our gratitude to our Tunisians friends at AIESEC Carthage for welcoming us.

Thanks to all these wonderful people, the blog made its way. In addition to the articles in the Prince Arthur Herald, Tunisia Elections was consulted more than 5,500 times. All this support generated interest outside of Tunisia: two articles were published in the Montreal Gazette (here and here). The La Tribune newspaper (from Sherbrooke) and the University of Sherbrooke's website wrote about it. In Montreal, La Presse newspaper published an article that gave some advertisement to the blog and I was interviewed by Benoît Dutrizac on 98,5 FM radio, by Réjean Blais on the Estrie-Express radio show, and also by the RTCI English Program.

Conclusion

The transition to democracy isn’t completed in Tunisia. On the opposite, it’s just the beginning and we will have to wait a few years before truly evaluating the benefits of the Revolution.

Beyond the criticisms that some may express, the fact is that the way Tunisians forced their dictator to leave the country and what has transpired since then is absolutely remarkable.

Unquestionably, since last January, Tunisia is a model for the Arab world and will continue being so for many years. This translates into added pressure for the country because if the Revolution finally brings about a true and long term democracy, their Arab neighbours will be inspired and continue striving for it. I’m certain Tunisia is up to the challenge.

My journey in Tunisia has allowed me to see how a country establishes a democracy and puts in place mechanisms to guarantee its long term stability.

It has been a once in a lifetime experience, a unique and golden opportunity to witness a process so vital for every society. I’m grateful to those who helped me in any way for this project.

To my Tunisians friends, I want to say بسلاما­ and may all your endeavours be successful.

Rafaël Primeau-Ferraro


The Call for a Rise team.

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