President Barack Obama sent his congratulations to the voters of Tunisia, who turned out in large numbers Sunday to elect 217 delegates to the Constituent Assembly that will write a new constitution for the country that initiated the “Arab Spring” 10 months ago. The Assembly will then be responsible for organizing parliamentary and presidential elections, so presumably there is already a consensus that the new constitution will define at least two branches of government.
Heavily favored — the results will not be officially released until Tuesday — the Ennahda (rebirth) party led by Rachid Gannouchi has represented for 30 years (during most of which it was banned) the Islamist tendency in Tunisia and is expected to have done well, which means it has a shot at winning an outright majority. Barring that, it will either seek allies among the non-religious parties or motivate the latter into forming a secularist coalition. As they range from ex-communists to technocrats who served the fallen regime of Zine Ben Ali, this may be difficult to achieve. On the other hand, Ennahda in the past has joined with leftist and ex-communist parties in demanding reforms of the Ben Ali system.
Much will depend on how Tunisians view th impact of the evolution of post-Gaddafi Libya. Gaddafi’s capture and lynching, reminiscent of the fate that befell such tyrants as Mussolini and Ceausescu, by forces of the new government may be a cathartic act of revenge, but some observers fear it may presage a descent into anarchy and civil war between the country’s tribes and clans. The announcement by the Council of National Transition that sharia would be applied — apparently pre-empting any kind of constituent assembly or even indicating that none is needed — will be contrasted with Gannouchi’s pre-election statement, consistent with what he has been saying for years, that his party would not seek to impose religious law, or religion for that matter, on anyone in Tunisia.
Meanwhile there are reports that the aged and handicapped French resident of Kenya alleged kidnapped last month by Somali pirates has died in captivity. The French defense minister, Gerard Longuet, while discussing with the press the cost to France of the Libyan operation (300 million euros, compared to the billion dollar price tag of the U.S. contribution to the effort), mentioned that Gaddafi’s end was brutal, but so were the thousands of ends he brought about. Longuet did not say anything about sending a battle group into the Indian Ocean to wipe out the pirate dens. Not that anyone asked whether the French government was considering such an option.