The results of the first elections held in post-Ben Ali`s Tunisia are finally official. The ISIE announced few hours ago the final numbers which confirm the majority of seats (90) -over 217 composing the future Constituent Assembly- to be assigned to Ennahdha party.
So, Ennahdha has won, as expected. There is no surprise in this. We have been talking about these elections for months and the victory of Ennahdha was largely predicted by analysts.
Nevertheless, it seems there are at least two categories of people who are surprised (even shocked).
The first category is made up by some Western press, led by the French. It is such a big scandal for the civilized republique to see the “Jasmine revolution” hijacked by a bunch of “barbus”! How is it possible that the gentle, the soft, the “bloodless” “Facebook and Twitter revolution”, the revolution led by this globalized tech-savvy youth has been taken over by a bunch of Islamists who are now ready to turn the Jasmine country into an Islamic-inspired state where Westerners would possibly not be able to enjoy the beauty of the “carte postale” they have fabricated for the eyes of Club Med lovers only… How is it possible to have betrayed the “real spirit” of this “peaceful”, “secular”, “electronic” revolution?
We should rather ask ourselves: how is it possible that the same West -US, Europe, and particularly France- that has supported financially and militarily Tunisia`s neighbor Libya`s revolution -clearly marked by an “Islamic” flavor- are now feeling so “offended” by Ennahdha`s victory in the first post-Ben Ali`s elections?
Is it possible for us to accept such a double standard? The financial and military interest behind Western support to Libya`s armed revolution is so clear that it`s even not worthy to spend more time discussing it. The disgusting part, however, is that we are still fearing for an Islamic caliphate to be established in Tunisia at the same time we are thinking to oil revenues to be generated in the future shariaa ruled free Libya.
Don`t you think that we have been discussing Ennahdha`s victory for too many months now and maybe, the mere fact that we have been so much discussing it has even contributed to their success? Sometimes demonizing “the enemy” does result in raising his popularity. A strategy based on acting against something instead of acting pro-something has never led to positive results.
The other category of surprised people are Tunisian elites, mostly leftists, progressive, secularized. The sentence I`ve been hearing the most in their circles and cafes and lounges is: “who are we, the Tunisians?We thought we were educated, open minded, progressive whereas we are backward, populist and against modernity”. Tunisian elites are under shock. As if they are up after a nightmare and they can`t believe it wasn`t actually a nightmare but it is the reality that they have to face.
Frankly, I can understand the shock but not the surprise. The only real surprise to me was to see this Mr Hemshi Hemdi, leader of the new formed movement Arida Chaabia, to gain so many seats by sitting comfortably in London where he has been residing for years and years. He is the probably the only one who really made an “Internet revolution”: he has built his political movement virtually, from scratch, gaining 19 seats . And not by chance, the majority of his supporters are in the place which has give “birth” to the 14 Janvi revolution, Sidi bouzid.
Why these fierce people, who have first revolted against Ben Ali`s regime and inspired so many others to do the same, why should they vote for a guy like Hemdi? Hemdi is the founder of the TV channel al Moustaqilla (the independent) which was the first TV channel to oppose the former regime, broadcasting from London since 1999. But apparently a deal between Hemdi and Ben Ali took place, and the channel has lowered its opposition voice becoming a sort of populist and even Islamic-flavored pro-regime channel.
Why the fierce population of Sidi bouzid should have voted for this guy? and not only voted: few hours ago protests erupted in town and Ennahdha office there was set to fire, as a response to the ISIE`s decision to invalidate 19 seats gained by Hemchi`s Aridha Chaabia.
I believe the key of Hemchi`s success are in a couple of things that should let us to some more in-depth considerations.
First, “The People’s Petition party includes three broad popular ideas and key demands: the formation of a democratic constitution, the adoption of a system of free health care, and the dispensation of grants to the unemployed”. Words like free, health care, grants, unemployed should have sound as honey for the Sidi bouzid`s people, especially the youth. They have felt neglected after 14 janvi. Despite being praised and glorified by everybody, none of the interim governments in the post-Ben Ali has really adopted any concrete move towards them -even the simplest, but with the highest symbolic value: paying a visit to the place where the revolution has started-. It is a kind of revenge: you have ignored us, we will ignore you.
Second, breaking any possible bond with the former (and classical) party-structure, even the one of opposition parties like the PDP, seems to be a reason behind this vote. It is a vote of protest, a vote which says “enough” with the past. Ironically enough, none of these people has thought that Hemchi himself is indeed the past, by having been former opposition and then, all of a sudden, very friendly to the Ben Ali`s regime. Moreover, many of former RCDs members have joined Arida Chaabia, representing a continuity more than a rupture with the past.
Third, Hemchi comes from Sidi bouzid. He is “one of them”, despite having been living for years abroad and despite the fact that he didnt even come back to his birth place for the elections campaign. Sidi bouzid rarely had its “sons” joining central power and its instances were never heard in a structure of power mostly made by a ruling elite coming from the Sahel part of Tunisia (like Ben Ali himself). Voting for him is a parochial choice at the best, a “tribal” choice at the worst.
Ignoring all these aspects and not working on them is like playing with fire in future Tunisia.
Just as an example, how to ignore what this vote seems to show, i.e. Tunisian society is still very much shaped around a tribal family structure culture rather than a nuclear family one? How to ignore that the gap between central Tunisia on the one hand and coastal Tunisia (including the capital) on the other hand are world apart?
Whilst the elite used to think that almost everybody had a “urban culture” background in Tunisia, this vote could show instead that there is a wide gap still in place between the city and the countryside as opposite cultures.
The communication gap between the elites and the sha3b (people) has been existing for decades, but maybe overshadowed by dictatorship. The heavy burden of Ben Ali`s regime has prevented Tunisians to see that there was a lack of communication hence a lack of cooperation between the two sides.
The fact itself that the PDP and many other leftist coalitions`s campaigns were designed around issues like secularism, maintaining civil rights, etc proves that they missed the point. Talking about secularism to people who want to listen about jobs, houses and hope does not sound as the right choice. And then religion has worked out its role too.
Having witnessed Ennahdha supporters` spontaneous celebrations two days ago was very instructive. People, mostly women, were chanting with energy and passion: “as-sha3b yurid al-nahdha min jedid” (the people want a new re-birth). They were so clever to build on the most important slogan of the Arab Springs: “as-sha3b yurid” (il popolo vuole). Then the name of the party itself -Ennahdha- means “re-birth”, so it suits pretty much to this idea of a new future of hope.
Les jeux sont faits for now. Tunisians really need to work to reduce this gap between Tunisians and Tunisians that Ben Ali has alimented and at the same time kept hidden for decades.