The results were a clear shift in the political climate of the country, where the Islamist Ennahda party had enjoyed a dominant position since the 2011 ouster of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Ennahda officially conceded defeat ahead of the final tally, congratulating their secular rivals and stressing the need for an inclusive, unity government:
“We have accepted this result, and congratulate the winner Nidaa Tounes,” Ennahda official, Lotfi Zitoun, told Reuters. However, he repeated the party’s call for a new coalition including Ennahda. “We are calling once again for the formation of a unity government in the interest of the country.”
And so far, that’s all. No threats of violence. No imminent conflagration in sight. In fact, with a civil concession of defeat, a 60% voter turnout, and a process hailed by international observers as “transparent and professional,” Tunisia stands as an example of democratic success where other Arab Spring nations have swerved back towards repression and fundamentalism.
To be fair, secularism is by no means a cure-all for Tunisia’s economic and political woes. Under the self-styled “moderate Islamism” of Ennahda, Tunisia went through all the growing pains of a transitional nation from dictatorship to democracy and gained a constitution and free elections along the way. The incoming Nidaa Tounes party will still have to balance economic reform against social stability, and it will still have to walk the tightrope of managing ideological tensions between the secular and religious camps — and, given the presence of some Ben Ali-era politicians among their ranks, they’ll have to work doubly hard to convince the public that this will not be a return to the old aristocracy.
Nevertheless, it’s certainly encouraging to see a positive, secular outcome in the Arab Spring, where so many nations have fallen into civil war and radicalism. And, to give credit where it is due, it’s equally admirable that the Ennahda party has approached this transition so gracefully — it’s a testament to the integrity of both sides that they’ve held the democratic institution above religion and party politics. Whatever ultimately happens, the people of Tunisia have set an example for a peaceful transition of power, showing the world that the road from dictatorship to democracy can indeed be trod without a reversion to violence or fundamentalism.
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