The view from the Tunisian city of Sousse is good. Voters are enthusiastically queuing up to cast their vote. However, the importance of the poll in Tunisia is not which party wins the popular vote for the constituent assembly. The true significance will be whether Tunisia votes, and “which” Tunisia votes for which party or list.
Three questions must be addressed: Will Tunisians vote? What are Tunisians voting for? To whom are they giving their vote? Most political observers and media pundits have turned the bulk of their attention to al-Nahda, a moderate Islamist party. Here in Tunis, the focus is on al-Nahda and many assume that they will win. Islamists define all things political in the Arab world. This applies to extremist Islamism as well as to civic Islamism.
Indeed, October 24, 2011, the day after the election, will be a turning point in the history of Tunisia. The Islamists will resoundingly establish themselves as a key political player in the country’s democratic transition. Thus far Tunisia has been run by Francophile elites favouring secular politics. In this regard, Tunisia will be following in Turkey’s footsteps.
Those who are not versed in Tunisian politics should go and stand in the square opposite the Municipality of Tunis and just absorb the architecture of political Tunisia. This square has no analogue elsewhere in the Arab world.
With the municipality to one’s back, the Sadiki school – founded by reformer Khayr al-Din Pasha – symbolises not only Ottoman connections, but also a reformist agenda begun more than 150 years ago. To the right, stands the Aziza Othman hospital, named after a woman who cultivated the earliest forms of civic networks in Tunisia.