Tunisia’s transition ‘faces toughest stage’

tunisia demoTunisia’s first full elected parliament held its opening session on Tuesday with a challenge to implement the democracy its people sought when they marched in the 2011 revolt against autocrat Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Reuters reports:

The country that saw the first of the Arab Spring revolts chose a temporary national assembly in 2011 to draw up the new constitution approved early this year. The full parliament will sit for the next five years. That constitution has been hailed as one of the most progressive in the Arab world and an example of Tunisia being a model for transition in a regional in turmoil.

“We have achieved the theoretical side by approving a progressive constitution but today we face the toughest stage, which is how we apply this constitution,” Mustapha Ben Jaafar, president of the former transitional assembly, told lawmakers.

Tunisians achieved another first since the Arab uprisings began almost four years ago, casting their vote for president on November 23 in free and open elections. The leading candidates-Beji Caid Essebsi, former regime official and leader of Nidaa Tounes, and interim president Moncef Marzouki-will face each other in a runoff at the end of this month. The race reflects the tension between Tunisians’ need for familiar leadership in light of growing insecurity and their aspiration to fulfill the promise of the Jasmine Revolution.

tunisia_ugtt(1)What insights, in terms of voter turnout and civic engagement, does the first presidential round reveal about the country’s outlook? How will the presidential election result determine the formation of the new government? What role is Ennahda poised to play in Tunisia’s future? What opportunities and challenges will the elected leadership face in terms of consensus building and governance?

Please join a discussion of these and other questions with Hariri Center Nonresident Fellow Bassem Bouguerra, a security sector reform advocate and recent candidate for Tunisia’s parliament, and Jeffrey England , deputy regional director for Middle East and North Africa programs at the National Democratic Institute, who observed the parliamentary and presidential elections in Tunisia in the last two months.

Thursday, December 11, 2014 9:30 – 11:00 AM A light breakfast will be served. 

1030 15th Street NW 12th Floor (West Tower Elevator) Washington, DC


The Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy cordially invites you to a press conference panel on:

Tunisia’s Landmark Presidential Elections: Referendum,  Revolution or Restoration?

Welcoming Remarks:His Excellency Mohamed Ezzine Chelaifa  Tunisian Ambassador to the United States (invited)

Conference Panelists:  

Radwan Masmoudi President, Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (and Tunisian presidential campaign expert)

Marina Ottaway  Senior Associate, Middle East Program, Wilson Center (presidential campaign commentator)

Jeffrey England Deputy Regional Director for MENA, National Democratic Institute (presidential and parliamentary election observation leader)

Hal Ferguson Deputy Regional Director for MENA, International Republican Institute (presidential and parliamentary election observation leader)

Robert Worth  Contributor, New York Times Magazine (presidential campaign commentator)

Moderator and Chair:

 Dr. William Lawrence Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy and American Tunisian Association

Tuesday, December 2, 2014 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.

National Press Club Fourth Estate Restaurant 529 14th St. NW, 13th Floor Washington DC 20045

Light refreshments will be served

Turkey needs checks and balances to halt dangerous drift


turkey2With Turkey’s political system  on the brink of profound change, the June 2015 general election will be the last until 2019 could define much more than the next four years, Tulin Daloglu reports for Al-Monitor.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been victorious in all elections since coming to power a decade ago, but the party has lost some seats in the last election lowering its current total to 312.

Speaking to Al-Monitor, Ersan Sen, an Istanbul-based law professor, said even though the AKP may not win enough seats to make constitutional change alone in the parliament, it can still build alliances with the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP) to reach that crucial number. “It’s however impossible to make any changes to the constitution or to take any draft proposal to referendum without the exact number of parliamentarians’ noted in the constitution,” Sen said.

Former United Nations High Commissioner Navi Pillay has urged Erdoğan and the Turkish government not to follow in the ways of oppressive governments.

“It’s very important that President Erdoğan respect dissent and allow the free flow of information and respect freedom of speech because that is what democracy means.”

Turkey_biden ndiThe importance of separation of powers in government was the theme of a meeting last week in Istanbul, Turkey, between U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and the Checks and Balances Network, a coalition working for greater democracy and pluralism, supported by the National Democratic Institute:

“Our founders concluded that a concentration of powers was the most corrosive thing that can happen to any system,” Biden said of the U.S. system. “We still believe that.”

“My take away from this meeting,” said Berrin Sönmez of the Capital City Women’s Platform, “is the idea that ‘checks and balances’ is not a system for export but rather a set of principles and mechanisms that each country in its own way can adopt to address its specific needs.”

Formed in 2012 with assistance from NDI and Sabancı University’s Istanbul Policy Center, the Checks and Balances Network is a coalition of more than 180 civil society organizations today represented in all 81 of Turkey’s provinces.  The network’s campaigns and advocacy programs aim to bring about a new constitution, reform institutions including parliament, the judiciary and the media, and foster a new political culture based on participation, transparency and accountability.

NDI has worked in Turkey since 1997 supporting civil society and increased citizen participation in the political process, with funding from the National Endowment for Democracy, the U.S. Department of State, and American Councils for International Education.RTWT

Western aid will help consolidate Tunisia’s emerging democracy

tunisia demoAn official under former hardline ruler Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali appears set for a close run-off in Tunisia’s presidential polls with a rival who says he represents the 2011 “Arab Spring” uprising that toppled him, Reuters reports:

Preliminary results in the country’s first presidential ballot since the uprising are expected later on Monday. But the parties of two frontrunners said initial tallies showed they would face off in next month’s second round…..One frontrunner, Beji Caid Essebsi, who was parliament chief under Ben Ali, has cast himself as a veteran technocrat. He will face off with Moncef Marzouki, the current president who has warned against return of “one-party era” figures like Essebsi.

Many Tunisians weighed security concerns against the freedoms brought by their revolution and by its democratic reforms, which have remained on track in sharp contrast to the upheavals brought by the Arab Spring elsewhere in the region, including the military coup in Egypt and the conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Libya, AP reports.

Exit polls suggested that neither of the two leading candidates was likely to win an outright majority and that a runoff between them would be necessary. Official results were not expected for one or two days, The New York Times adds.

“The presidential election is the last milestone on Tunisia’s transitional path,” said Abdel Latif Hannachi, a professor of modern history at Manouba University in Tunis. It should herald a period of “democratic consolidation,” he said.

tunisia_ugtt(1)Outside the cosmopolitan coastal capital of Tunis, front-runner Essebsi, an 87-year-old politician who served under two autocratic regimes, is seen as an unsettling relic of the autocratic regimes that ruled Tunisia from its independence from France in 1956 until the 2010 uprising, The Wall Street Journal reports (HT: FPI).

“There is a guarantor of our revolution and it is our civil society,” said Ghazi Mrabet, a prominent civil-rights attorney and political analyst. “It has proved uncompromising in our transition to democracy and forced compromise and dialogue,” he tells the Journal:

Through a vibrant array of worker unions, legal associations and women’s rights groups, Tunisia’s citizens have held unusual sway in moderating between the dominant forces in the nation: Islamists who gained early support for their opposition to Mr. Ben Ali’s regime, and former regime figures who have recast themselves as experienced statesmen uniquely equipped to manage the nation during a turbulent period.

The next round is likely to see a framing of ‘democrats versus anti-democrats’ rather than ‘secular versus Islamists’ as in other countries, notes David McLaughlin, an election observer with the National Democratic Institute for the election.

This is because the second-place party in the legislature, the Islamic Ennahda party, did not field a presidential candidate. Their support for a coalition government led by a prime minister in the legislature remains a deep unknown in Tunisian politics, he writes for The Globe and Mail:

For democrats, Tunisia offers the prospect of stability and progress. But western democracies will need to pay it serious attention. Democratic progress must be accompanied by economic progress. Tunisia requires western aid and development beyond the significant democratic assistance countries like Canada have already given.

Monica Marks, a Tunisia analyst from Oxford University, told PRI that Essebsi is winning Tunisians over by strumming on very familiar chords.

“He’s offering a kind of paternalistic, big man approach to politics,” she says. “[Essebsi is a] highly charismatic personal leader who says to the people, ‘I offer you safety and security, I’m offering you state prestige. If you invest trust in us, the old political elite, the statesmen, we are going to solve your problems.’”

In what some analysts interpret as a setback for political Islam, Ennahda didn’t field a candidate or indicated any preference, a signal that the party can live with Essebsi and allowing it to avoid backing a losing candidate, said Riccardo Fabiani, a senior analyst for North Africa at Eurasia Group.

tunisia ghannouchi“Reaching this historic moment today is a proof the democratic experience was a success in Tunisia” Rashid Ghannouchi, Ennahda’s leader, said while waiting to cast his ballot in Tunis. “Regardless of the results, the success of this election is in itself a victory.”

“People in the Arab world will watch Tunisia as a laboratory,” said political analyst Hammadi Rdissim. “We can do it, it’s not a myth, it can be a reality, and elections and democracy are possible in an Islamic country.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry congratulated the Tunisian people for their success in holding presidential elections, POMED adds.

“Tunisia’s democratic path will remain an inspiration to all those in the region and around the world who are working to build the foundation for an inclusive, peaceful, and prosperous future,” he said, adding that the U.S. will continue to provide Tunisia with economic and security assistance. A number of U.S. NGOs participated in observation missions, including the Carter Center, the International Republican Institute, and the National Democratic Institute - the latter two being core institutes of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Tunisia at a Crossroads: Between a Nascent Democracy and the Old Guard

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

12:30pm – ICC 270, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

Radwan A. Masmoudi  is the Founder and President of the Center of the Study of Islam & Democracy (CSID), a Washington-based non-profit think tank dedicated to promoting dialogue about democracy in the Muslim world. He is also the Editor of the Center’s quarterly publication, Muslim Democrat. In April 2012, he was elected as a member of the Steering Committee of the World Movement for Democracy.

Seating is limited. Lunch will be provided. RSVP

Will Tunisia’s polls unleash Mediterranean tiger?

TUNISIA UGTTThe Call of Tunisia party, which emerged as the winner of Sunday’s parliamentary elections, would opt to form an alliance with “democratic” parties to secure a majority in the parliament, a senior group member has said.

“If we have to form an alliance, it would be with the democratic parties; the Popular Front, Afek Tounes and Social Democratic Path,” said Aymen Bejaoui, apparently rejecting the Islamist Ennahda’s call for a national unity government.

“In any other country I would say [the idea that they would cooperate or form a coalition] would be far fetched,” says Amy Hawthorne, a resident senior fellow at the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. “However this is Tunisia, and there’s a process of consensus-building and a real desire for stability and stable government.”

Yet it will be a challenge for Nidaa to bring all three parties into coalition, Nouri Verghese reports for Middle East Eye:

Free Patriotic Union is led by Slim Riahi, a wealthy businessman whose lavish spend in his the 2011 electoral campaign, along that of the Progressive Democratic Party, led to the introduction of spending caps on advertising by political parties. Like Afek Tounes, founded in 2011, Riahi’s party supports a free-market economic policy, which would put it at loggerheads in any coalition with the Popular Front. A coalition of 12 leftist parties, made up of communists, Marxists as well as Arab nationalists, the Popular Front’s internal makeup is as diverse as that of Nidaa Tounes. 

tunisia ghannouchi“It’s too early to write Ennahda off,” said Radwan Masmoudi, president of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy. “It’s still the second largest party. It will lay a strong role in the parliament and in the outcome of the presidential elections because their support for a candidate will count for a lot in the bargaining process.”

“Building a coalition of such diverse interests [with the smaller parties] will be difficult,” hesaid. “I don’t think Nidaa can form a government without Ennahda.”

The victory of Nidaa Tounes “represents a resoundingly negative verdict on the Islamists’ two years at the head of the government, between 2012–2013,” The Economist notes:

Senior Nahda figures concede that the job of running the country, and especially the economy, was more challenging than they had anticipated. The leader, Rached Ghannouchi (above), told party supporters that five years out of power could be salutary…..

Despite its victory, Nidaa Tounes has not been able entirely to shake off the reputation that it represents an attempt by members of the previous ruling party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), to regain influence. In what was in effect a single-party state, the RCD built clientelist relations running from taxi-drivers and corner-shop owners, to non-governmental organisations, lawyers, senior civil servants and—importantly for its funding—business people. 

tunisia_ugtt(1)Although Nida Tunis includes figures from the old regime, the changes in the country since the revolution preclude a return to former repressive practices, the FT’s Heba Saleh reports:

Civil society organisations empowered after the revolution helped Nahda and its secular opponents forge crucial compromises that enabled the democratic process to remain on track. Last year, two assassinations of leftwing politicians by Islamist militants provoked an explosion of popular anger, deepened the polarisation between Islamists and secular groups and brought calls for an unravelling of the process.

“A lot of people will see the results as a setback,” said Brahim Rouabah, a researcher at the Tunis-based American Institute for Maghreb Studies. “But one thing that is sure is that civil society, and more broadly Tunisians, in the last couple of years have [become] used to certain rights and freedoms [on which] it will be hard to backtrack.”

So what changed between this election and the last one? asks Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine:

First, Islamism in general, and the Brotherhood in particular, including analogous parties like Ennahda, are in sharp decline in popularity in mainstream Arab societies. The past year and a half or so has registered a significant downturn in the fortune of Brotherhood and other parliamentary-oriented Islamist groups in the Arab world seeking power through elections. ….Arabs have had the opportunity to watch Islamists in power, and to register the fact that they aren’t any cleaner, more honest, more competent or more effective than other groups. Indeed, in some cases, considerably less so.

Which brings us to the second big change between this Tunisian election and the last one: the rise of Nidaa Tounes. Last time around Ennahda got a much larger percentage of the vote than it did this time, but it still wasn’t a majority. The majority was secular, or at least non-Islamist, but it was spread among at least 20 parties. Ennahda faced virtually no significant Islamist opposition, so all of the votes accruing to that faction went to them….

The third big difference is that in the last election Ennahda campaigned on social and economic issues, presenting themselves as the authentic representatives of “the revolution.” Most of its secular and non-Islamist rivals focused on trying to spread fear of Ennahda. It was never going to work…..RTWT

Representatives from the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI), and Tunisian civil society watchdog Mourakiboun–all of which, combined, deployed over 4,000 independent observers to monitor polling stations around the country–presented their findings on a broadly positive note, TunisiaLive reports.

“To all those who pronounce the end of democracy in this region, I urge you to visit Tunisia,” said NDI President Kenneth Wollack.

An observer mission from the International Republican Institute described the electoral process as “credible, transparent and allowed for genuine political competition among political stakeholders”.

Polls have indicated that the economy is Tunisians’ highest priority, FT analyst Main Ridge reports:

A recent World Bank report describes how rigid red tape and misconceived policies – introduced by the ousted president but still in place – have stultified the economy, preventing investment and job creation. That report says that:

Tunisia presents an economic paradox. It has everything it needs to become a “Tiger of the Mediterranean”, yet this economic potential never seems to materialize.

Since Tunisia obtained a two-year, $1.78bn loan from the IMF on the understanding that it would pursue economic reforms last year, the country has cut fuel subsidies and more recently has imposed new taxes. It has also been allowing the dinar to depreciate in order to rebuild foreign reserves from low levels.

Capital Economics said in a note that the election was “another important step in Tunisia’s long and bumpy road to democracy” and that there were two obvious outcomes to Tunis’s win, Ridge adds:

The peaceful nature of the elections suggested that political stability was returning to the country which may prompt firms to resume investment projects as well as attract foreign investment. Moreover, an easing of security concerns would help to lift the tourism sector out of its recent slump. This should lay the foundations for a gradual acceleration in growth over the coming years – GDP growth has languished around 2.5% since 2011. Note that a return to political stability in Egypt has helped to support a sharp pick-up in growth there.

Tunisia has made some progress toward the independent press, free speech, and freedom of assembly–it is now possible to vent one’s public views without fear of a visit from the secret police, writes Council on Foreign Relations analyst Max Boot, a member of the IRI delegation:

But much of the old corrupt bureaucracy which once served Ben Ali remains on the job, serving as a bar to further progress and stifling economic development with its heavy-handed, French-style socialism and cronyism.

Interestingly enough, the Islamist party, known as Ennahda, is more committed to free-market reforms than the big secular bloc known as Nidaa Tounes (Call of Tunisia), which bested it in Sunday’s voting. Ennahda shares this characteristic with the Turkish AKP party which, while Islamist, has also been more free-market oriented than most of its secular predecessors. And indeed Ennahda is trying to position itself as the “moderate” face of Islam, claiming it is committed both to Islam and to pluralistic democracy.

How to aid Ukraine’s democracy

ukraine polls opora

A leading human rights watchdog today released a blueprint for the U.S. government on how to promote Ukraine’s democracy, just as the country prepares to vote in legislative elections next week. The report, from Human Rights First, outlines recommendations for the government to assist Ukraine as it struggles to address a series of challenges, including corruption, hate crime, and the struggle to develop civil society. 

“A failure by the U.S. government and Ukraine’s other friends to hold the new government to its full international human rights obligations is ultimately self-defeating.  A strong, stable, democratic Ukraine promoting human rights and the rule of law is in the best interests of the European Union, the United States, and the region,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley, author of today’s blueprint. “The United States and other countries should help Ukraine fulfill its human rights obligations. A Ukraine which does not make space for the new politics to breathe is more likely to be unstable, volatile, and at risk of further political convulsions in the form of mass protests.”


Ukraine’s election campaign appears calm and moderate across the country, according to a report from an international observation mission. Nonetheless, cases of voter bribery, misuse of administrative resources, unlawful agitation, posting of campaign materials without obligatory information and similar irregularities have been reported.


In comparison with the previous parliamentary elections, there is an observed improvement in media operation and coverage, the report continues. Freedom of speech is respected for the most part, journalists are free to report on the campaign, and candidates in most cases are free to share their message and to access voters through various media sources.


The domestic election observation group Opora also released a statement and report on the status of voter bribery and misuse of administrative resources today. In its statement Opora noted that while fewer cases of bribery and abuse have been observed this year than in 2012, the phenomenon continues throughout the country. Opora called on President Poroshenko to sign the recently passed amendments to the criminal code, which would criminalize voter bribery and several other campaign irregularities. 


The international observation mission of the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO), also released its interim report on the campaign and status of electoral preparations today, covering the period of September 10 to October 10. In its key findings, ENEMO:

  • commended the Central Election Commission’s (CEC’s) efforts to ease the process for amending voter registration for internally displaced persons;
  • warned that the repeated changes to the composition of District Election Commissions (DECs) may hinder their ability to operate smoothly; and
  • noted that while the campaign throughout the country was mostly calm, cases of voter bribery, misuse of administrative resources, unlawful agitation, and posting of campaign materials without obligatory information have been reported.

The National Democratic Institute is providing Opora with assistance to monitor the parliamentary elections and conduct a parallel vote tabulation (PVT) of the national party list race. NDI is also providing technical and financial assistance to ENEMO’s mission, with the support of the Department of State, European Union, and Embassy of Germany.