Tunisians have gone to the polls and chosen the secular Nidaa Tounes party in an election widely seen as a litmus test for the Arab Spring’s one remaining success story. As Al Jazeera English reports:
Tunisia’s leading Islamist party, Ennahda, has accepted defeat in general elections on the basis of preliminary results, and congratulated its secular rival Nidaa Tounes on winning most parliamentary seats.Lotfi Zitoun, a senior Ennahda official, conceded the loss in remarks on Monday, and reiterated its call for the formation of a unity government, including Ennahda, in the interest of the country, regarded as the birthplace of the Arab Spring.“We have accepted this result, and congratulate the winner,” Zitoun told Reuters news agency. […]Nidaa Tounes, led by Beji Caid Essebsi, won 83 seats, while Ennahda came second with 68 seats, according to official provisional results released on Monday.
Tunisia’s economy has struggled desperately since the revolution, and the country has also seen an uptick in extremist attacks and a string of political assassinations. Nonetheless, the first country of the Arab Spring to overthrow its dictatorship remains by far its greatest success. Syria and Libya no longer exist anywhere except an atlas, and Yemen doesn’t seem far behind. Egypt has swung from an Islamist would-be dictator to yet another generalissimo. But Tunisia has taken a far more encouraging path.This election was widely seen as a decision about Tunisia’s identity—whether Tunisia would orient itself towards Western-style secular pluralism or towards Gulf-like Islamism. While the Islamists will have the second-most seats in the parliament and aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, the outcome of this peaceful election is clearly good news for the long-term prospects of democracy in Tunisia. While Tunisia faces serious economic problems, including a high unemployment rate and the remnants of stagnation from autocratic rule, it nonetheless has the 2nd best-ranked education system in MENA and less of the crushing poverty and overpopulation that plagues countries like Egypt.It is still, however, profoundly threatened by the ongoing destruction and civil war in Libya, and has apparently become a significant recruiting ground for young radicals willing to go to Syria to fight for ISIS and al-Qaeda. Despite these looming threats and its economic struggles, however, Tunisia remains the one glimmer of hope for democracy and liberal rule in a region otherwise ruled by strongmen or anarchy.