Good news, and a possible turning point, coming out of Tunisia, a relatively moderat country.
Tunisians Vote in a Milestone of Arab Change
TUNIS — Millions of Tunisians cast votes on Sunday for an assembly to draft a constitution and shape a new government, in a burst of pride and hope that after inspiring uprisings across the Arab world, their small country could now lead the way to democracy.
“Tunisians showed the world how to make a peaceful revolution without icons, without ideology, and now we are going to show the world how we can build a real democracy,” said Moncef Marzouki, founder of a liberal political party and a former dissident exile, as he waited for hours in a long line outside a polling place in the coastal town of Sousse. “This will have a real impact in places like Libya and Egypt and Syria, after the fall of its regime,” he added. “The whole Arab world is watching.”
In another first for the region, a moderate Islamic party, Ennahda, is expected to win at least a plurality of seats in the Tunisian assembly. The party’s leaders have vowed to create another kind of new model for the Arab world, one reconciling Islamic principles with Western-style democracy.
Results are expected to be tallied within days. In the meantime, those still struggling through the postrevolutionary uncertainty of places like Libya and Egypt watched Tunisia “with a kind of envy,” said Samer Soliman, a professor at the American University in Cairo and an Egyptian political activist.
Libyans and Egyptians acknowledge that Tunisia was not only the first but also the easiest of the Arab revolutions, because of its relatively small, homogenous, educated population and because of the willingness of the Tunisian military to relinquish power. The success of Tunisia offers inspiration, but perhaps few answers, for Egyptians or Libyans who hope to follow in its footsteps.
Libya’s interim leaders on Sunday proclaimed their revolution a success and laid out an ambitious timetable for the election of their own constituent assembly. But they have yet to solve the problem of unifying the loosely organized brigades of anti-Qaddafi fighters under the control of an interim authority to govern Libya until then, much less lay the groundwork for elections.
And with Egypt a little more than a month away from a vote for a new Parliament, its interim military rulers have so far balked at adopting many of the election procedures that enabled Tunisia’s election to proceed smoothly. Among them are inking voters’ fingers to ensure people vote only once, transparent ballot boxes, a single election day rather than staggered polls, and weeks of voter education before the balloting. Also, in Egypt, the interim military rulers have not agreed to relinquish any of the army’s power over either the next Parliament or a planned constitutional panel.
For Tunisians, though, the scenes at the polls on Sunday — a turnout far above expectations, orderly lines stretching around blocks, satisfied smiles at blue-inked fingers — already seemed to wipe away 10 months of anxiety and protests over the future of the revolution that ousted Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. For the first time in their history, many Tunsians said, they expected an honest count of their ballots to determine the country’s future.
“Today is the day of independence,” said Amin Ganhouba, 30, a technician. “Today we got our freedom, and our dignity, from the simple act of voting.”
In a statement issued after the polls closed on Sunday, President Obama congratulated Tunisians for “the first democratic elections to take place in the country that changed the course of history and began the Arab Spring.”
Many people expressed faith that the act of voting itself would change Tunisia for the better, no matter who won. Some argued that democracy would make public officials more accountable. “The people in power know that we are keeping a watchful eye,” said Kamel Abdel, 45, a high school philosophy teacher voting in the crowded slum of Tadamon.
Others predicted an almost magical transformation. “There is going to be social justice, freedom, democracy, and they are going to tackle the unemployment issue,” Mohamed Fezai, a jobless 30-year-old college graduate, declared confidently.