The votes are being counted in Tunisia’s elections which were held yesterday and it appears that the Islamist Ennahda Party is doing very well. Even if it doesn’t win the most votes, Ennahda will probably be part of the new governing coalition.
When Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia back in January, I expressed concern about how al Qaeda had expressed its support for the discontent (as it subsequently has in Libya.) However, Daniel Larison of The American Conservative was skeptical of my argument. Larison argued that the influence of, as he put it, “the so-called Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb” was “minimal, and the group is no position politically or militarily to impose anything on Tunisia.” Yet consider what Larison wrote about Ennahda:
Tunisia is the one of the countries where we needn’t worry very much about the Islamist nature of opposition to the regime, because the opposition is largely composed of entirely different groups. The remnants of An-Nahda are not very politically significant, and radical jihadist groups from outside the country are even less so.
Yet just over two weeks after Ben Ali went into exile, Ennahda’s leader Rachid Ghannouchi returned to Tunisia after nearly twenty years in London and his presence would breathe new life into Ennahda. Larison completely underestimated Ennahda’s resonance with the Tunisian electorate.
It is worth noting that the liberal media in this country are casting Ennahda as a “moderate Islamist party” which “believes that Islam should be the reference point for the country’s system and laws but maintains it will respect women’s rights and is committed to democracy and working with other parties.”
But if the word of a woman is worth half that of man under Sharia law, I don’t see how Tunisia can respect women’s rights. Nor do I see how a Tunisia run by Islamists would be prepared to relinquish power if it lost an election much less be prepared to compromise with more secular parties. And what about Tunisia’s non-Muslims?
I would hasten to add that by all appearances Tunisia’s election appears to have been conducted freely and fairly. Yet I fear that Tunisia’s first free and fair election might also be its last.