jeudi 17 novembre 2011

Goodbye Tunisia and all the best



This is the last post of Tunisia Elections. Not that there aren’t any more important issues to discuss in Tunisian politics (quite the opposite) but the initial objective was to cover activities surrounding the first election in this country, which is now done.

To date, the majority of steps required to begin the work of the Constituent Assembly have been completed. Protests and contestations of the election results are over, negotiations between major parties (Ennahda, Congress for the Republic and Ettakatol) to form a government are ongoing (despite the temporary withdrawal of Ettakatol) and the date for the first day of the Constituent Assembly has been set for November 22nd.

Moreover, the emplacement where the new Assembly will be has been chosen unanimously between the eight parties that garnered the most votes in the election. The Tunisian parliamentarians will work at the former location of the Chamber of Bardo (article in French).

My personal impressions of Tunisia

Let’s start with the numerous positive aspects. Tunisia is a wonderful country with magnificent ruins, beaches, coastal areas, hills, an enormous desert, small villages, water basins and incredibly beautiful and breathtaking landscapes.

Tunis, the capital, has no reason to be envious of the world’s biggest cities and the famous Bourguiba Avenue is bursting with attractive cafés and restaurants serving great food.

In fact, food is one of the things I appreciated the most in Tunisia. No matter where you come from and whatever your culinary habits are, it’s practically impossible not to enjoy the traditional meals of this country.

All servings and sandwiches composed of meat, from chicken to chawarma, and the always excellent « plat escalope » are a carnivore’s dream (I can testify).

The one and only Tunisian couscous.
And my favourite dish of all is THE famous couscous. Either with fish or chicken, I’ve never eaten a couscous as good as the Tunisian one. No doubt, it will be the last meal I eat before leaving in a few days.

But above all, what is the most remarkable in Tunisia is its citizens. Rarely have I seen people as kind, friendly and always ready to help you. With its relatively young population, Tunisia is no doubt destined for a fabulous future.

Politics

On the political side, the democratic transition since the end of the regime in January 2011 is as remarkable as it is impressive.

In less than 10 months, Tunisia has managed to rid itself of a dictatorship and hold free and transparent elections worthy in all aspects of the great democracies of the world.

Add to that the fact that the proceedings were overseen by an independent organization (High Authority for the Achievement of the Revolution) that didn’t refrain from taking courageous decisions such as excluding extremist religious parties, gender equality on electoral lists and so on.

What is Tunisia’s political future? It’s difficult to say. It all depends on the success of the Constituent Assembly and the next election coming up in a year. Up to now, the parties seem willing to collaborate. It remains to be seen if this will continue during the negotiations regarding the constitution and especially when discussions will involve aspects on which parties have different points of view (legislative system – presidential or parliamentarian).

One thing is certain though. If a parliamentary system with a single chamber is instituted, Islamists will probably govern the country for a number of years. On the other hand, if a presidential system is chosen, we should see a more equitable sharing of power between progressives and Islamists. My detailed opinion on the subject can be found in the following article.

Disappointments

Now some negative aspects. I was disappointed with two groups: the Islamists and the Progressives (I combine political parties and independents).

The Progressives, by their refusal to face reality, offered the election to Ennahda on a silver platter. That’s the consequence of not having a united front and presenting hundreds of different political platforms.

While Progressives were arguing amongst themselves, in spite of often presenting almost identical political programs, Islamists were united and managed to garner all the religious votes to finish way ahead with 41% of the seats and 37% of the votes. I discussed the topic in this article.

Cumulatively, Progressives finished with more than 50% of all the votes. A quick prediction: if Progressives don’t find a way to form a coalition before the next election, Ennahda will again finish first. This time though, Islamists might have a majority depending on the electoral system used. In the last election, the mixed proportional balloting system was chosen, which greatly favors small parties.

The Islamists

As for the Islamists, my opinion substantially changed only a few days ago. When I started this blog, I intentionally ignored any prefabricated opinions about them. Ennahda constantly repeated during the election campaign that it cherished a modern Islam that wouldn’t restrain the rights of any individual.

Ennahda's leader, Rached
Ghannouchi.
Many media, especially the French, accused them of using a double speech. Others simply treated them as extremists or even criminals with evidence supporting their allegations. It’s the case of a ruling of the Canadian Federal Court of Appeals in 2003, Zrig v. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration where we could note that the Canadian status section qualifies Ennahda as a “movement which supports the use of violence and uses terrorist methods” and that is involved in “assassinations and bombings” .

Concerning their leader Rached Ghannouchi, it states that “he is a terrorist and is considered by certain sources as one of the masterminds of terrorism”. Also, the ruling mentions that ‘he called for violence against the U.S. and threatened to destroy its interests in the Arab world. He also demanded the destruction of the state of Israel”.

In addition, the General Secretary of the party, Hamadi Jebali, is suspected by many of having participated in terrorist acts on August 2nd 1987 where four explosions occurred at the same time in Sousse and Monastir hotels wounding 13 people.

In spite of all these elements, I focused only (rightly or wrongly) on their actions and engagements since last January’s uprising and even considered them as “moderates” in certain articles that I wrote. Ennahda often asks its accusers to “wait and see how we will act before criticizing us”.

So it’s exactly what I did and today I feel as if I’ve been caught. Unfortunately I now believe the party uses a double speech and that its leaders are hiding a certain religious agenda to the population. Recent disconcerting declarations by Souad Abderrahim, Ennahda’s star candidate who supposedly embodies “modernism”, combined with the party leaders reluctance to comment, is overwhelming  proof of that.

For those who haven’t heard, she said that “single mothers don’t have the right to exist” and that “there is no place in Tunisia for absolute liberty”. A few days before that she also revealed that “Ennahda doesn’t plan to close nightclubs but will put into practice proper moral behaviour”.

I might add that what surprised me the most wasn’t Ms. Abderrahim’s declarations but the lack of indignation in most of the population. In fact, not all newspapers commented on the subject and except for a few young people on social networks, there was little denunciation of her statements.

Souad Abderrahim, Ennahda's controversial
candidate.
Is this a sign that many Tunisians secretly share a similar opinion? Lofti Achour, a well known film producer, says so in a fascinating article well worth reading on his Facebook page (in French). His theory is that many people support Ennahda but don’t dare say so in public which might explain the party’s success in the last election. The obvious facts are that poor regions aren’t the only areas who voted massively for them. Even in the Diaspora and Tunis ridings, their results were as high.

Whatever is said and in spite of circumstances being better than in any other Arab country, there is work to be done before mentalities evolve – on things such as the rights of women and especially of homosexuals, a very taboo subject.

The best moments

My most enjoyable experience is unquestionably meeting bloggers of the Revolution. Azyz Amami, Adib Samoud and Sanda Salakta of Regards Vigilants are fascinating individuals. They are very young and have already unique experience that many can’t even imagine or will ever know.

I was also fortunate to meet politicians with promising futures. Wajdi Elleuch, an active member of Afek Tounes, who has a doctorate in engineering from Sherbrooke university, is one of them. He allowed me to accompany a head of list candidate, Chokri Yaich, for a day of the election campaign in a poor area.

One day in the election campaign following Afek Tounes'
head of list candidate in Sfax 2, Chokri Yaich.
It was very enriching and I was able to witness the significant differences between those areas and richer cities of the north. M. Yaich was elected and he will be one of the four representatives of Afek Tounes in the Constituent Assembly.

Congratulations also to CPR’s Mabrouka M’barek, with whom I made conducted an interview. She was elected in the Americas and rest of Europe riding.

A special mention to the mayor of Sidi Bou Saïd and member of PDM, Raouf Daklahoui, for whom double-talk is an unknown concept and also to three young politicians, Wafa Madder, Omezzine Khelifa and Arabiya Kousri who will eventually find themselves in the Tunisian Parliament.

I can’t forget the group of people at Tunisia-live.net, the best source of information in the country. This young team of exceptional journalists contributes to the development and notoriety of Tunisia on an international scale.

On a complete different topic, here is a short humorous song (in French) about the election that was very popular on the social networks in Tunisia:

  

Thanks and a personal plug.

This blog, as basic as it is, required the help of numerous people I wish to thank. Firstly, the folks at the Prince Arthur Herald and Marc-Olivier Fortin who published my articles on their platform.

Secondly, Carole Gagné, a very talented lady for whom the French language has no secrets. In addition to her abilities, she’s a tireless colleague. The same goes for Bernard Bujold, a computer whiz whose advice was instrumental in getting the blog going. The press card he supplied me with was very useful in getting to attend many events. He is the proud founder of an internet journal which has over 50,000 followers: LeStudio1.

The articles of this blog were
published on the Prince Arthur
Herald.
For the English version of my articles, I must thank Marcus McCormick and Marco Ferraro. They are translation workhorses who paid attention to small details and put in a lot of time.

A big thank you also to Sameh Krichah, a very intelligent young activist involved in numerous organisations, which you will soon see in the media and on the political front.

Finally, in the name of all the international students who participated in the Call for a Rise project, I want to express our gratitude to our Tunisians friends at AIESEC Carthage for welcoming us.

Thanks to all these wonderful people, the blog made its way. In addition to the articles in the Prince Arthur Herald, Tunisia Elections was consulted more than 5,500 times. All this support generated interest outside of Tunisia: two articles were published in the Montreal Gazette (here and here). The La Tribune newspaper (from Sherbrooke) and the University of Sherbrooke's website wrote about it. In Montreal, La Presse newspaper published an article that gave some advertisement to the blog and I was interviewed by Benoît Dutrizac on 98,5 FM radio, by Réjean Blais on the Estrie-Express radio show, and also by the RTCI English Program.

Conclusion

The transition to democracy isn’t completed in Tunisia. On the opposite, it’s just the beginning and we will have to wait a few years before truly evaluating the benefits of the Revolution.

Beyond the criticisms that some may express, the fact is that the way Tunisians forced their dictator to leave the country and what has transpired since then is absolutely remarkable.

Unquestionably, since last January, Tunisia is a model for the Arab world and will continue being so for many years. This translates into added pressure for the country because if the Revolution finally brings about a true and long term democracy, their Arab neighbours will be inspired and continue striving for it. I’m certain Tunisia is up to the challenge.

My journey in Tunisia has allowed me to see how a country establishes a democracy and puts in place mechanisms to guarantee its long term stability.

It has been a once in a lifetime experience, a unique and golden opportunity to witness a process so vital for every society. I’m grateful to those who helped me in any way for this project.

To my Tunisians friends, I want to say بسلاما­ and may all your endeavours be successful.

Rafaël Primeau-Ferraro


The Call for a Rise team.

Problem in negotiations for the Constituent Assembly and detailed election results


Mustapha Ben Jaafar, the leader of
Ettakatol.
For a number of days the Ennahda, Congress for the republic (CPR – French acronym) and Ettakatol parties have been negotiating the work to be done by the parliamentarians in the Constituent Assembly.

These parties have respectively finished first, second and fourth in the election. The independent list in third place, Aridha Chaabia, has been ignored for multiple reasons.

The main subjects of negotiations are the positions of President of the country, President of the Assembly and Prime Minister of the next government. The parties are attempting to share the ministries with the goal of presenting a “government of national interest” as often stated by the Islamist party Ennahda.

As such, the concept is politically noble and appropriate in terms of image. With no party having a clear majority, those at the top must try to form a coalition or at least an alliance. In addition, it is advantageous for them to appear non partisan and working on the real issues the country is facing. Few citizens would be pleased by the prospect of one party forming the government.

Initial tensions

Up to now, according to preliminary reports in the media, discussions were going on rather smoothly. The probable alliance was wide ranging and reassuring for the population: Ennahda uniting Islamists and many voters from the right, CPR for the center-right electorate and Ettakol for the center-left.

Nevertheless, a conflict erupted yesterday with an Ettakatol representative announcing that his party was leaving the negotiating table.

This departure was motivated by a statement made the previous day by the Secretary General of the Ennahda party, Hamadi Jebali. While in a public meeting with a leader of the Palestinian movement Hamas, he affirmed that “this (the revolution) is a divine moment, in a new state, in a 6th Caliphate” referring to a non-democratic system of governance that recognises the authority of a Caliph instead of elected officials.

Hamadi Jebali, the General Secretary of Ennahda.
In a radio interview, a representative of Ettakatol mentioned that this wasn’t a definitive break but mostly a warning sent to Ennahda to say that it’s “inadmissible to speak of a Caliph in Tunisia when we’re discussing the principles involved with a second republic”.

In replying to the controversy, M. Jebali suggested that his comments were “taken out of context”. Meanwhile, the other parties expressed their disapproval (article in French) during exchanges with the media.

This latest gaffe by Ennahda follows a scandal that involved Souad Abderrahim, one of the party’s star candidate. Note that she has decided to file a complaint for defamation (article in French) against Jalel Brick, a severe critic of Ennahda and the former regime of Ben Ali.  

Detailed results of the vote

The Independent High Authority for the Elections has finally divulged the complete and detailed results of the election. Theses numbers concern 33 ridings.

One can see that unlike what was initially reported, it isn’t 70% but 51.7% of the eligible population that exercised their right to vote. In Tunisia, the percentage was 54.1 while in the Diaspora it only reached 28.9.

Here are the number of votes and seats obtained by each party, coalition and independent list. To consult a list of all elected candidates click here.

Political parties and independent lists
Number of seats
Number of votes
Ennhada (Islamists)
89
1 500 649
Congress for the Republic (CPR)
29
341 549
Aridha Chaabia***
26
252 025
Ettakatol
20
248 686
Progressive Democratic Party (PDP)
16
111 067
Al Moubadara
5
97 489
Modernist Democratic Pole (PDM)**
5
49 186
Afek Tounes
4
29 336
The Revolutionary Alternative (PCOT)
3
11 891
Echaab Movement
2
13 979
Social Democrats
2
8 230
Voice of the Independent*
1
13 432
The Independent*
1
11 980
For a Tunisian National Front*
1
7 421
Maghrebine Liberal Party
1
6 621
Equality and Justice Party
1
6 098
The Hope*
1
6 022
Progressive Struggle Party
1
5 860
The New Destourian Party
1
5 826
The Democratic Social People's Party
1
5 643
Cultural Unionist People's Party
1
5 219
The Faith*
1
5 070
Social Struggle*
1
4 749
Free Patriotic Union (UPL)
1
4 456
Equity*
1
4 232
National Democrats Movement
1
3 599
Faith to the martyrs*
1
2 540
*Independent lists
**Coalition
***9 elected members resigned


mercredi 16 novembre 2011

Hechmi Hamdi, the running joke of Tunisian politics


Hechmi Hamdi, the leader of
Aridha Chaabia.
It’s not the first time I bring up the subject but it’s difficult not to do it again with the most recent escapades that afflict one more time the Aridha Chaabia party.

Last Friday, nine elected officials (plus three other candidates) announced that they would resign to sit at the Constituent Assembly as independents. The latter indicated that they didn’t want to work anymore with their leader, Hechmi Hamdi, who didn’t share any decisional power and never even consulted them.

On the previous day, M. Hamdi announced that he would arrive in Tunis on Saturday November 12th and that he would stay for three weeks. Then, when confronted with the wave of resignations of his candidates, he chose to stay in London.

The most surprising aspect of this news isn’t exactly that he delayed his arrival, but that he was out of the country for the entire electoral campaign and that he doesn’t seem to have any desire to establish himself in Tunisia. Moreover, when questioned about his absence during the campaign, he offered no explanation except to say that “he preferred staying in London”.

The never ending saga

For those who haven’t followed this saga, here is a summary of the main facts.

-          October 27: Disclosure of the final election results. Aridha Chaabia, a party unknown to the media, wins 27 seats. On the other hand, nine candidates are disqualified for electoral fraud and affiliation with the former regime.

-          A few hours later, Hechmi Hamdi announces that his party, in protest, will not be present at the Constituent Assembly.

-          October 29: The party’s remaining 18 elected candidates state that they will disobey their leader and sit in the Constituent Assembly.

-          November 8: The country’s Administrative Court reverses the disqualification of eight of the nine candidates bringing the total number of seats for Aridha Chaabia to 26.

What is wrong with the party?

It’s difficult to blame anyone but Hechmi Hamdi for all the problems afflicting Aridha Chaabia. In addition to multiplying contradictory statements since the election, he seems to have a very unusual personality.

Following the election, he proclaimed himself President of Tunisia on his Facebook page. Moreover, he continually proclaims that 50% of the population voted for Aridha Chaabia and that the other parties should negotiate with him to form a coalition.

Let us recall that M. Hamdi owns a London based television station and that he appears on it on a regular basis. He used it extensively during the campaign to make promises considered unrealistic, populist and demagogic by his opponents (ex: free health care, free public transit for the elderly, an additional indemnity of 200 dinars per month for all the unemployed, etc.)

In search of an identity

Beyond the scandals and quirkiness of their leader, does the party have an identity problem? It’s a valid question since it’s practically impossible to determine any ideological leaning within Aridha Chaabia.

Is the party leaning to the left, to the right or is it somewhere in the middle politically? Hard to guess, maybe somewhat to the left when we consider the great number of promises.

Is Aridha Chaabia a Progressive or Islamic party? There again, your guess is as good as mine. M. Hamdi considers members of Ennahda as “his brothers” in spite of their refusal to collaborate with him and their never having contacted him.

Tunisia's interim President, Fouad Mebazaa.
It’s the same with Progressives. None of them want anything to do with him since M. Hamdi is suspected of having had links with Ben Ali.

Knowing all of this, the most recent decision of Tunisian interim President Fouad Mebazaa not to invite him with the main the major parties to the preliminary discussions regarding the Constituent Assembly isn’t really surprising. M. Hamdi didn’t appreciate it and requested excuses from the President. He then made the same demands to the Tunisia Africa press agency, to political parties and to the main television network in the country, accusing them all of defamatory remarks towards him.

An uncertain future

If the party remains isolated and continues accumulating scandals, it would be surprising for them to survive much longer. Only three weeks after the election, a third of their elected candidates have left the party and it’s not impossible that more of them will do the same in the near future.

It remains to be seen if all of this will truly hinder M. Hamdi from now to the next election. If some consider him a joke (I’m one of them), others see in him the future saviour of Tunisia.

One thing is certain; no one had predicted the advent of Aridha Chaabia last October 23rd and few will dare bet against them in the future. If Tunisian politics has something in common with other democracies around the world, it’s that it can be unpredictable.

dimanche 13 novembre 2011

Jubilation in Tunisia : A symbolic championship for a historic year



Let’s do a small break of politics with this short article. The Espérance de Tunis, the favourite soccer team of many Tunisians, won the African Cup Saturday evening, ending a 17 year drought without a championship. To put it in perspective for Quebecers, it’s the equivalent of the Montreal Canadiens winning the Stanley Cup.

Fans were celebrating in the streets, shouting and waving team flags. On Bourguiba Avenue, there was a real carnival atmosphere. Cars were honking and passengers were proudly wearing official Esperance colours with gold and blood red team jerseys and scarves.

With this win, the Tunis club puts its hands on their second title in African Champions League after losing in the final three times in 1999, 2000 and 2010. This win qualifies the Espérance for the FIFA Club World Cup which will be held in Japan next December 8 to 18. Legendary FC Barcelone team and their star player Lionel Messi will also participate.


The Espérance beat Wyad Casablanca from Morocco 1-0 after tying the away game 0-0. Tension in the Tunisian camp was very high towards the end of the game as only one goal by the Moroccans would have made them the overall winner with the most goals on the opponent’s field.

The Espérance’s goal was scored by Harrison Afful at the 21st minute. A very offensive minded player, he fought off an opposing defender and easily beat the goaltender with a shot in the top of net. In preceding rounds, Tunis’ had eliminated an Algerian formation and a team from Soudan.

This glorious win in front of 55,000 fans at Rades stadium comes at the perfect time for Tunisians. It culminates a year laden with emotions starting with the historic popular uprising in January, the first democratic election in October, and a magnificent championship in November. Here are pictures of joyful fans celebrating the win :