Opinion: The people have spoken | World| Breaking news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 25.10.2011
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Opinion: The people have spoken

In Tunisia's first free elections, the people appear to have handed victory to the Islamist party, Ennahda. Rainer Sollich, head of DW's Arab Service, asks whether this is a cause for concern.

English opinion graphic

Tunisia has fewer inhabitants than metropolitan Cairo - and yet it has managed to make history in a big way.

At the beginning of the year, the Tunisians were the first in the Arab world to have the courage to force their authoritarian rulers from power. In a revolution heard around the world, they showed that freedom, democracy and human rights weren't just ideals imported from the West. They managed to get the international community to respect them and, most important, they led the way for similar revolutionary movements in countries like Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen.

Following Sunday's election, the country which gave birth to the Arab Spring once again has every reason to be proud. The vote went off almost without a hitch. Voter turnout was sensationally high, and voting irregularities remained the exception. The Tunisian people took a further decisive step toward their own future and the establishment of a democracy, providing an example for all Arab people who not only wish to free themselves from their own longtime dictators, but at the same time strive toward a new, citizen-led stability.

Rainer Sollich

Rainer Sollich, head of DW's Arab Service

However, we must realize that despite the successful Tunisian vote and future free elections in other Arab countries, the end result won't necessarily lead to governments with pro-Western sympathies. As with previous elections in Algeria and the Palestinian territories, an Islamist party has also apparently received the most votes in Tunisia, a traditionally secular country. The fact that many Tunisians also voted for a number of non-Islamist parties shouldn't be overlooked, but support in this camp remains divided.

The reasons for the success of the Islamist Ennahda party are many. Based on reports, the party apparently received professional support during the election campaign from Saudi Arabia and other Arab states in the Persian Gulf. After a decades-long resistance against the regime of former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the party garnered the trust and backing of the people. Ennahda appealed to the values of the conservative Muslim population, taking care to avoid fundamentalism and instead promote a moderate interpretation of Islam. Party members pledged to tackle Tunisia's many economic problems - the country suffers from extremely high unemployment, especially among its youth.

The apparent electoral success of the Islamists must now be accepted by their political rivals and the international community. It has reflected the will of the people. And yet, there is still cause for concern. Will civil liberties be curtailed under new religious laws? How credible are Ennahda's assertions that it will support democracy, human rights and equality for men and women? In these respects, Tunisia is further ahead than any Arab nation - this must not be allowed to change.

Ennahda will be closely watched, not only by the international community but also by Tunisians themselves. They now have the chance to show that Islam, democracy and modern values are able to coexist.

Author: Rainer Sollich / cmk
Editor: Andy Valvur

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