This blog's main topics are the political situation in Tunisia and all the activities surrounding the election of the Constituent Assembly that was held on October 23rd 2011. You will also find interviews and discussions that I conducted with politicians and bloggers from the Revolution. All this from a Canadian perspective in Tunis.
jeudi 3 novembre 2011
Three young politicians that want to make a difference
From left to right : Omezzine Khelifa, Arabiya Kousri and
They’ve been running for a major party with almost no
chance of being elected and, as expected, they didn’t win a seat at the
Constituent Assembly. Representing the future generation of leaders, Wafa
Madder, Arabiya Kousri and Omezzine Khelifa were candidates of the Ettakatol party
on the Tunis 1 and 2 lists. Summary of an interview done at the Montréal Café (!)
Arabiya Kousri, the most experienced politician of the
trio is considered a party veteran at the age of 28. This may sound surprising
but remember that even if the Ettakol party was founded in 1994, only a few
brave souls dared to join it before the end of the dictatorship. Today,
membership cards are selling swiftly and the youth movement within the party is
growing rapidly. In fact, it is among younger Tunisians that Ettakol gets its strongest
Mrs Kousri started working for Ettakol in 2009 just
before the presidential election. Back then she managed the party’s Facebook
account which was quite difficult because she had to deal with censorship
imposed by the regime. For this year’s election, she focused on meeting voters
and explaining the party’s philosophy and strategy. She was in fourth place on
the Tunis 1 list, a riding which was very important because the leader of the
party, Mustapha Ben Jaafar, was also on that list.
Also on the Tunis 1 list, this time in the sixth place,
Wafa Madder, aged 27, was invited to join the party in March by her colleague Arabiya
Kousri. A certified accountant, Mrs Madder crisscrossed most of the country to
present Ettakatol’s program and to open registration offices. As the party’s
coordinator, she also emphasised recruiting women candidates especially after
the ISIE announced that there would be gender parity on the electoral lists.
The third member of the trio, Omezzine Khelifa, worked
for a few years in France before returning to Tunisia to run in the elections.
Though working on another continent, she would visit her family in Tunisia
every second weekend. Her desire to be a politician was inspired by her aunt, a
women’s rights advocate, who was imprisoned in 2009 for having published
anti-regime pictures on Facebook.
All very eloquent, the three young women responded
honestly to all the questions. « One of the main problems in our country
is a question of mentality. There are too many old habits created by the old regime
that still persist » explains Mrs Kousri. As an example, she mentions an
anecdote that she often witnessed in the campaign, « When we met people, some were
asking us: what will you give me if I vote for you? My response: what will you
give me? »
The leader of Ettakatol, Mustapha Ben
All three candidates proudly salute the ISIE’S
decision to impose gender parity on electoral ballots. «It’s an excellent thing
when you take into account the nations situation, and it’s the best way to
ensure women representation. Politics is difficult, particularly for women.
Even within our party, we have to struggle to be heard. In spite of the fact
that Ettakatol, like other major parties with the exception of Pôle moderniste
démocratique (PDM), only selected three women has heads of lists out of a
possibility of 33, the young women remain positive. « The imposition of parity
is already a major occurrence. For the heads of lists, it will be better during
the next election » states Mrs Kousri.
No subject was off limits for the candidates during
the interview; from the economy to the Constitution, tourism, religion or
external affairs. Much like most progressive parties, Ettakanol endorses the
separation of religion and state.
In the same breath, candidates declare that an eventual
coalition with the Islamic party Ennahda is not planned in spite of rumours
spread by some in the media and their opponents that Mustapha Ben Jaafar is
hesitant to clearly express his position on the matter. Following criticism, M.
Ben Jaafar reiterated his opposition to a coalition with Ennahda during an
interview with La Presse newspaper (article in French).
On the economic front, Ettakanol proposes to increase
the minimum taxable level of annual income from the actual 1,500 dinars to
3,500 dinars. In the tourism industry, there needs to be a change of
philosophy. « Tunisia has countless historical ruins, second only to Italy, and
practically nothing is done to showcase them. We must stop putting all our
efforts on promoting seashore and focus instead on our cultural heritage »
mentioned Mrs Khelifa.
When campaigning in the streets, the candidates, in
addition to presenting their political program, encouraged people to exercise
their right and their responsibility to vote whether for them, other parties or
independents. Speaking of independents, the trio didn’t hesitate to raise
pointed questions, « Why were there so many of them? Is it a question of ideas
or simply ego? It’s strange that none of them shared common ground with any of
the 110 parties » asked Mrs Madder.
According to the three women, the great number of
independents didn’t help progressive forces: « It only divided the vote and
gave an advantage to religious parties such as Ennahda. Independents were
mostly of left of center ideology like most parties. We are now at the point
where if we wish to make a difference in Tunisian politics, we must considered making
alliances with those that share the same vision instead of dividing ourselves and
thereby allowing our adversaries to slip into the lead. »
Even if they weren't elected, the three young women will continue working hard for their party. « We want to build for the long-term. This was our first election, but many will follow. We must persevere no matter what the results of October 23rd were. This is the only way to surmount the great challenges facing Tunisia. »