Battling for democracy in Tunisia

The run up to the Tunisian elections was filled with a disruptive campaigning that appeared in parallel to electoral campaigns. At the time, a worried Tunisian called for vigilance against manipulative attempts to divert the people’s attention away from real issues. This article was first published on Nawaat.org

Abderrazak Guirat
9 November 2011

The battle for democracy in Tunisia began after the fall of the regime, and the hurried escape of the tyrant which spoke volumes about his fears and his cowardice.

Ben Ali was generally fearful of his own people, although he feared those who truly objected to him most, imprisoned some and forced the others to flee the country. At the same time he bribed into existence a false opposition to participate in fraudulent elections by splashing offerings from the ‘Muslim house of wealth’ on them. They played along and Ben Ali enjoyed two decades in power with continued electoral distortion and human rights abuse. This conniving alliance acted as a fake veil covering the corruption and allowing the appearance form of continual success in the ballots, without ever being challenged by a valid opposition.

Ben Ali had learned his lesson from a previous ballot when he allowed the Ennahda movement to take part in the elections. Shocked by their success, the president and party’s reaction was to immediately reverse “the good deeds” announced in his inaugural speech on Novemeber 7, 1987, and to oust Ennahda.

In early 2011, Ben Ali fled in fear and left thousands frightened behind him. The era we have been living in since January 14 has seen the beginnings of the yearned for democratic reform, but the process has been constantly interrupted. The battle for democracy has been repeatedly disturbed by unrestrained party campaigning and a confusion between ideology and democracy. Under the banner of freedom of expression together with plots aimed at terrorising people into casting a particular vote, attacks on what is holy occurred on a regular basis.

Disruptive campaigning has appeared in parallel to the electoral campaigns, succeeding in igniting religious strife and in dividing the Tunisian people into ‘believers’ and ‘sinners’. Leftist lobbyists engaged in such activity, often behind the mask of cultural commentators, have monopolised some of the media platforms with their panic calls. They have been warning people of the gravity of such a vote and its repercussions on generations to come.     

This is really a battle between parties with contradicting histories. However, this does not justify resorting to dirty tactics. Such methods should be banned since they threaten the reversal of everything the revolution has achieved thus far, most importantly the freedom to be different, the right to express oneself, and the right of choice. They are dirty tactics precisely because they undermine the political and democratic process longed for by the Tunisian people and undermine social or food security.This is a scandalous effort to abandon or fake the real democratic route through terrorising, intimidating, and confusing the voter’s thoughts instead of improving the general atmosphere.

Therefore, what must be said without hesitation and with a sense of all due responsibility, is that  all that has been happening in Tunisia since the success of the revolution has been nothing but tribal prejudices to which dozens have fallen victim. In this context, the sudden rise of food prices and withdrawal of basic foods from the market was no coincidence and is not unlinked to political interference. Also, the screening of Nadia Al Fani’s film in Africart hall was an attack on people’s sacred beliefs. Similarly, the screening of the Iranian film on Neesma TV was aimed at enflaming and confusing people’s convictions. These types of actions are unsettling the peaceful ways Tunisians have believed in for centuries.

These organised campaigns use ‘spiteful words’ as weapons, words that don’t settle for long enough to be visible, but which leave irreversible damage in their wake. Their equivalent in military warfare is banned internationally and forbidden for use. Anyone employing such techniques brings opprobrium upon themselves, just as the Israelis were castigated for the use of phosphorus bombs in the war on Gaza. The calculated use of the personification of the divine being to show contempt towards religious teachings has the same effect, as we can see from  the Islamic world’s reaction to the film ‘Fitna’ by the Dutch MP Geert Wilders, as well as what happened in Tunisia after the screening of the Iranian film.

In a truly democratic battle the weapons used are ones that present the public with a clear and coherent programme, one with a factual substance that will enable understanding of the planning and the promises -  challenging candidates to a  dialogue while treating them with the utmost respect and without resorting to a variety of offensive exchanges like those we currently permit our media outlets. In particular, it is wrong to target parties with an Islamic background claiming that they incite terrorism, are primitive, and oppressive, in a way designed to provoke violent reactions. All of this has occurred in Tunisia during the electoral campaign. It scares people and increases their skepticism of the achievements and success of the revolution, and might ultimately deter some from participating in the coming election.

The general mood in this narrowing of the perameters of revolution has revealed people’s true enemies. Some parties aim to withhold freedom and dignity, echoing the previous repressive regime. This is despite the cultural quality and education that Tunisians enjoy, a people that deserves to live in a democratic country with institutions and wide rights to all in a lawful society. The enemies of the people are those who fought against the establishment of the democratic state that the martyrs fell for. They are encouraged in using their dirty tactics by the incendiary colonialist powers who have recruited them for their own purposes and advantage.

They represent nothing more than the old repressive regime and continue down the same trajectory. Their behaviour will betray them sooner or later to whoever is unfamiliar with them, isolating them, exposing their tricks, and exhibiting them as the true enemies of liberty and democracy.

Perhaps the results of the ballot will show them that the Tunisian people are too smart to fall for the tricks aimed at terrorising them, and preventing them from planting the tree of democracy and freedom, firm with it’s branches up high in the sky. Perhaps we will prove that Tunisians are tolerant Muslims that have no sects, tribes, or dangerous divides amongst their nation that prevents them from enjoying the shade from this great tree that includes all the people of this nation in green Tunisia.  


Translated by Mazen Zoabi from Nawaat.org


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