Dispatch: Tunisia Tests Democratic Islamism
MIN READOct 25, 2011 | 18:49 GMT
Analyst Kamran Bokhari examines the challenges Islamist movement Ennahda faces after its victory in Tunisia's first elections since the "Arab Spring."
Unofficial results suggest that Tunisia's Islamist movement Ennahda will emerge as the single largest bloc in the emerging parliament. Ennahda's victory in the Oct. 23 elections is a significant development. But this electoral outcome does not mean that either the country or the wider region is about to become democratic or Islamist. Ennahda is definitely the country's most organized political force, but for the longest time it has been an outlawed opposition group whose leadership had been in exile for close to two decades. What this means is that Ennahda has never had any experience with governance and, therefore, it faces a number of challenges as it moves forward as the leading party in parliament. The first challenge will be to meet public expectations and try to improve the socio-economic conditions in the country. It was these very dismal conditions that led to the ouster of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Secondly Ennahda will be faced the challenge of working with a security establishment as well as rival political forces who do not share its ideological orientation. And, while it is juggling the task of governance, meeting day-to-day expectations of the public and developing a working relationship with ideological opponents, it will also need to move the country towards a new political system within a short span of one year. According to initial reports Ennahda has bagged some 40 percent of the vote. What that means is that even though it's the largest bloc in parliament, there is a sizable amount of the electorate that did not vote for Ennahda and, therefore, will need to be reached out to by the leading party if it is to be successful in moving the country towards political reform. Therefore Ennahda faces immense obstacles in the path two words creating a democratic Tunisia. What makes it even more difficult is that it will need to balance its own ideological preferences with those of its opponents. By no means is Ennahda's political victory trivial event — far from it. In fact, what happens in Tunisia, in terms of this experiment with Islam and democracy, will have implications for other countries such as Egypt that have far more geopolitical significance than the tiny North African state. But winning an election is the easy part — crafting an Islamic democracy is where it gets hard. And this is because the notion of an Islamic democracy has been a concept in the minds of thinkers and observers. And Ennahda's victory represents the first practical step toward operationalizing that notion.