Moderate Islamists claim win in Tunisia’s Arab Spring vote

October 24, 2011

(Rached Ghannouchi, the head of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, raises his ink-stained finger after casting his vote at a polling station in Tunis October 23, 2011/Jamal Saidi)

Moderate Islamists claimed victory on Monday in Tunisia’s first democratic election, sending a message to other states in the region that long-sidelined Islamists are challenging for power after the “Arab Spring.” Official results have not been announced, but the Ennahda party said its workers had tallied the results posted at polling stations after Sunday’s vote, the first since the uprisings which began in Tunisia and spread through the region.

“The first confirmed results show that Ennahda has obtained first place,” campaign manager Abdelhamid Jlazzi said outside party headquarters in the center of the Tunisian capital. As he spoke, a crowd of more than 300 in the street shouted “Allahu Akbar!” or “God is great!” Other people started singing the Tunisian national anthem.

Mindful that some people in Tunisia and elsewhere see the resurgence of Islamists as a threat to modern, liberal values, party officials said they were prepared to form an alliance with two secularist parties, Congress for the Republic and Ettakatol. “We will spare no effort to create a stable political alliance … We reassure the investors and international economic partners,” Jlazzi said.

Sunday’s vote was for an assembly which will sit for one year to draft a new constitution. It will also appoint a new interim president and government to run the country until fresh elections late next year or early in 2013. The voting system has built-in checks and balances which make it nearly impossible for any one party to have a majority, compelling Ennahda to seek alliances with secularist parties, which will dilute its influence.

“This is an historic moment,” said Zeinab Omri, a young woman in a hijab, or Islamic head scarf, who was outside the Ennahda headquarters when party officials claimed victory. “No one can doubt this result. This result shows very clearly that the Tunisian people is a people attached to its Islamic identity,” she said.

Read the full story by Tarek Amara and Andrew Hammond here.

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