Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2013, Pages 62-63

Waging Peace

Tunisia: Divided and Dissatisfied With Ennahda

(L-r) James Zogby, Paul Salem, Radwan Masmoudi and William Lawrence discuss Tunisians’ attitudes toward their country’s government. (Staff photo D. Hanley)

The Middle East Institute held a panel discussion nearby, at the more spacious Human Rights Campaign headquarters in Washington, DC, titled “Tunisia: Divided and Dissatisfied with Ennahda,” on Oct. 8.  Arab American Institute founder James Zogby discussed a Zogby Research Services (ZRS) poll of 3,031 Tunisian adults, conducted in August 2013, shortly before the Ennahda-led government agreed to step down from power.

Zogby’s national survey revealed a deeply disappointed, distressed and divided electorate, with the Islamist Ennahda party as isolated in Tunisia as Egypt’s Freedom and Justice Party was this past spring. (ZRS polled 5,029 Egyptians  from April 4 to May 12, 2013, just before the June 30 demonstrations that led to the military deposing the elected government of President Mohamed Morsi.)

As in Egypt, a majority of Tunisians have lost the hope they had since their revolution two and a half years ago. More than 90 percent of Tunisians surveyed agreed that the country’s greatest concerns lay in providing security from extremism and terrorism, promoting job creation, and providing affordable housing. Only a third believed the Ennahda-led government was properly addressing these problems.

Tunisian disappointment with Ennahda was not based on the party’s Islamic values, but rather on dissatisfaction with Ennahda’s efforts to stimulate the economy and deliver promised political reforms. Less than a third of Tunisians said their government had been effective in expanding employment opportunities, dealing with the high cost of living and protecting personal and civil rights.

Almost two-thirds of Tunisians found fault with the draft constitution, Zogby said, while three-quarters said they don’t know enough about the document. This finding reminded Zogby of Americans who don’t know much—but that doesn’t stop them from having an opinion and voting! The fact that the Ennahda party recently agreed to step down peacefully, in accord with popular demand, shows that Tunisia is still committed to the democratic values that defined the 2011 revolution. The democratic transition is still working itself out in the country, leading Dr. Zogby to conclude that “the Arab Spring is alive and well in Tunisia.”

Radwan Masmoudi, president of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy; Paul Salem, vice president of the Middle East Institute; and William Lawrence of George Washington University shared their views on Tunisia’s progress as the country transitions to democracy. Masmoudi reminded listeners that when any political party attempts to govern it doesn’t take long for it to become unpopular. Divisions in society are normal, Masmoudi added. It’s how political parties manage to deal with each other that is important. He was hopeful that Tunisians would conduct a national dialogue and find a middle ground.

Panelists agreed that the international community needs to step up to help stabilize the Tunisian economy and buy Tunisia the 5-to-10 years it needs to build its democracy.

—Delinda C. Hanley

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