Tunisian elections set to empower Islamists. How moderate will they be?
Tunisian elections: Islamist party Nahda is set to do well in today's historic election in Tunisia, which will be a litmus test for the Arab Spring.
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If the opinion polls are to be believed, Tunisia may also become the first of the Arab Spring countries to vote in an Islamic party.Skip to next paragraph
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Nahda (Awakening), Tunisia’s equivalent of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, is expected to get anywhere from 22 to 30 percent of the vote according to various opinion polls.
In a majority voting system this would give Nahda a clear victory, which is why Tunisia has opted for a proportional voting system. But as the biggest political party, Nahda will undoubtedly put its stamp on the Tunisian political landscape.
Nahda’s leader, Rached Ghannouchi, has sought to reassure Tunisians and the world about his party’s intentions. Women’s rights will be guaranteed, Mr. Ghannouchi says, and there are no plans to impose an alcohol ban on Tunisia’s tourism sector, which provided 350,000 jobs, or 12 percent of the workforce, before the revolution.
“The political debate has forced Nahda to change its tone considerably,” says Al-Amrani. “They say they are a democratic party. For now we have no choice but to take their word for it.”
A violent face of Islam
But in the past couple weeks, Tunisians have been confronted with a much more violent face of Islam.
The Oct. 14 demonstration by the salafists was prompted by anger over the airing of the animated film Persepolis by a Tunisian TV channel, Nessma.
Persepolis is based on a graphic novel by French-Iranian Marjan Satrapi, which tells the story of the 1979 Iranian revolution through the eyes of a little girl.
What drew the ire of the salafists – and many ordinary Muslims as well – was a short scene in which the main character imagines a conversation with God, who is represented as an old man with a long beard. In Islam, all depictions of God are strictly forbidden.
Friday’s march began peacefully, but it ended with an angry mob breaking into the house of Nessma TV’s owner, Nabil Karoui, and attempting to set it on fire.
Mr. Karoui’s public apology over the airing of Persepolis – he said he wasn’t aware of the scene – has not succeeded in calming the salafists’ anger.
“They have attacked God and the Tunisian people," said student Younes Omar during the demonstration. "Nessma TV should be shut down.”
Mr. Omar is convinced that the airing of Persepolis was part of a plot by the West to anger Muslims and show them in a bad light. “They’re hoping that violent Islamic demonstrations will make people think twice about voting for Nahda,” he said. (Nessma TV is partly owned by Mediaset, the media company belonging to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.)
Deep suspicion over radical Islam
At the other side of the spectrum there is deep suspicion over the role that Nahda has played in demonstrations by radical Islamic militants.
“The salafists are nothing more than puppets in the hands of the Nahda party, and Rached Ghannouchi is the conductor,” said Salwa Ben Sbaa during the secularists' Oct. 16 demonstration.
The Nessma TV episode was only the latest in a string of protests by Islamic radicals.