Archives For September 2019

IRI, NDI Announce Arrival of Delegation to Observe Tunisian Presidential Elections“:

AH, IF ONLY!

If only these preachy, condescending, democracy promoters and democracy instructors, advice-givers and “observers”; these Middle-East democratizers and forced democratization/ regime change aficionados; these opportunistic self-appointed and self-proclaimed, rather bogus, fake, “bidons”(in French, as the Francophone Tunisians characterize them) so-called experts on the Arab world, Islam and political Islam, and, of course, on ‘democratization’, who descended en masse upon Tunisia after the so-called Arab Spring uprisings … Ah, If only they would leave Tunisia alone, now?

About political Islam, most of these “experts” support discreetly, perniciously, and even openly at times when it matters, the Tunisian Islamists, and have used their influence in Washington to promote them.

For them, promoting democracy in Tunisia has a special meaning. It means essentially supporting the so-called “moderate” reactionary Islamists, eventually and barely the seculars, but only if they can demonstrate a strong commitment to neoliberal ideology, and certainly not, absolutely not, the liberal seculars, whether political parties, unions, intellectuals, academics, or civil society organizations.

These democracy promoters and democracy instructors and supervisors, support the Tunisian Islamists for a variety of reasons.  According to their simplistic, neo-orientalist understanding of Islam, and essentialist stereotypes about Arab societies, coupled with their ignorance of the historic, social, geopolitical and political particularities of Tunisia,  the Islamists are the best bet for democracy to take hold in that country. Thus, they provided them with various platforms in Washington to promote their views and agendas, after they paved their way with countless newspapers Op-eds and articles,  and studies in mainstream Washington think tanks publications, swearing up and down that these Islamists are moderate and true believers in democracy,  as well as pro-American. Thus, with very few “secular” exceptions (and, again, only the committed neoliberals among them), absolutely NO liberal, no progressive  whatsoever has ever been invited since the launching of the Arab Spring revolts, by the think tank and foreign policy circles establishment and other entities part of the democracy promotion industry, to come to Washington and give talks, or participate in the numerous panels about democracy in the Middle East and North Africa and democratic transition in Tunisia (the only Arab Spring success story, blah, blah, blah…). Only Islamist officials and sympathizers have had that honor time and again.

Some others, among the Middle East and North Africa democratizers, apparently still believe that we are fighting the cold war when the Islamists were considered the strongest bulwarks against the spread of communist influence in the Muslim world (See Footnote 1), and should be supported for that reason.  Today the communists are gone, but they have been replaced in their views by those liberals who question American hegemony in the region and beyond, basically so sustain neoliberal globalisation, and dare to claim some kind of relative economic and political sovereignty for their countries, even if they are not necessarily anti-American. In other words, most of the secular progressives who know first hand how devasting the effects of neoliberal globalization is having on developing countries, and which have led, by the way, to the social movements and uprisings of the so-called Arab Spring.

Another group among the democratizers seems to believe that given the high level of religiosity in that region, keeping Tunisia and other MENA countries under (non-violent) Islamist influence and control, according to the dictum that “religion is the opium of the people”, will keep it quiet. Indeed, everybody knows that Arabs and Muslims don’t need jobs, justice, economic development, roads, schools, hospitals, and so on; all they need is religion and to be ruled by religious parties…

At any rate, remarkably enough, the Tunisians have proven fully committed –in spite of huge obstacles engendered by a catastrophic economic situation endured by their small peripheral developing country’s economy, caught up in the whirlpool of neoliberal globalization and foreign interferences– to building democratic institutions that are truly indigenous, neither imported nor transplanted. Institutions that include socio-economic rights as well, whether our usually anti-welfare state, anti-union, free-market worshipper democratization instructors, like it or not!

Moreover, Tunisians are led on the chaotic path of building their own version of democracy by a singularly highly educated social elite (I am not talking about the political class here) with a direct relationship (an almost organic link) to their people. A democracy that is rooted in their country’s history, reflecting their people’s social and cultural specificities — ‘cultural’ in a broad sense, not only religious, as our “democratizers” with their neo-conservative fixation on Islam, believe! For these, and other reasons, Tunisians certainly do not need any foreign interference, no democracy instructors, no foreign coaching by fake (“bidon”) experts and advice-givers, as they continue to forge their own path towards democracy!

One can’t help it but wonder: Wouldn’t there be enough for them to do in the US these days with all these anti-democratic forces rising? Shouldn’t our democratizers focus on their own country instead of wasting tax-payers money (for some of them) trying to “democratize” a complex world that their arrogant lack of modesty and intellectual rigor prevents from understanding, and, above all, respect, in all its diversity?  In any case, they don’t seem to understand that their relevance today, particularly given the current administration nationalist inclination and disinterest in universalizing American values, as our democratizers understand them, is over.

1 – There are of course several books about this, but here is a summary of the history of US-Muslim Brotherhood relations, in an article by Ian Johnson in the New York Review of Books dated February 5, 2011:  https://www.nybooks.com/…/washingtons-secret-history-musli…/ .

Nejib Ayachi

 (The views expressed here are strictly mine)

 

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The first round of the presidential election in Tunisia takes place this Sunday, September 15th. Today, the country is turning a new page in its history, with the second democratic presidential election since the collapse of the autocratic regime of Zine Ben Ali in 2011. Seven million citizens are expected to get to the polls and cast a ballot, while the socio-economic crisis is deepening, and the political landscape is increasingly fragmented.

Even though they now enjoy the rights to free expression, free association, along with free and competitive elections, the socioeconomic conditions of most people in Tunisia, including the middle class, have continued to deteriorate. The unemployment rate has increased, at about 15% of the working-age population, with young people particularly affected, and twice as much in the neglected and deprived regions of the interior of the country where the uprisings of the so-called “Arab Spring” started. In addition to unemployment, the housing crisis, access to decent and affordable health care services, and the increasing cost of living with an inflation rate of about 7 % are fundamental concerns for millions of Tunisians. On the other hand, the parallel economy is growing, now representing some 40% of all economic activities in the country, fostering corruption that has become widespread and endemic.

All of this is happening while the current ruling coalition comprised of the Ennahda Islamist party allied with center-right factions of the secular family have succeeded in derailing the debate over the economy and development issues in general, by focusing on identity and religious issues while many progressives in academia, the media, among civil society organizations and some political parties have called for a revision of Tunisia’s economic development model and the type of integration into the global economy that it entails, whose effects were basically the triggers of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ revolts.

Illustrating the fragmentation of Tunisia’s political scene is the huge number of candidates (twenty-six!) running for this presidential election. This is happening while many Tunisian have expressed their disinterest in politics, politicians, and elections. As of this writing, the participation rate in today’s election at the closing of polling stations, is only 45%, according to the local media.

In the 2014 elections, voters had to choose between the Islamists and their secular center-right opponents organized in the ‘Nidaa Tounes’ party founded by the old regime statesman Beji Caid Essebsi, who got elected as president in 2014, and who on July 25, a few weeks before the end of his term, passed away at the age of 95. Since the previous election of 2014, several other disparate political forces without clear ideological or programmatic contours. have emerged. The party of the late president Essebsi, Nidaa Tounes, broke out in various factions, built more on the basis of personal rivalries and thcraving for power, than on meaningful ideological or programmatic differences.

The popular protest movement for dignity, justice, economic rights, and democracy, which ended the Ben Ali regime in 2011, was from its initiation supported, and, in some regions of the country, even led, by various progressive social and political forces including the powerful UGTT union organization; before being highjacked by the ultra-conservative and reactionary Islamists, although they have not been part of it –at least as such, that is as Islamists.

However, these secular progressive forces are fragmented, embroiled in personal feuds, and, above all, unable to question and revise their dogmatic and narrowly ideological political vision. As a result, they have contributed to Ennahda’s strengthening its grip on large segments of the working people, the poor and deprived populations, and enabled the rise of the populist right, represented in this election by Abir Moussi, the candidate of a renewed RCD party (formerly of Ben Ali), who seems to be a candidate to contend with.

Another populist candidate who, according to the latest polls, may even win this election, is the newcomer in politics and media tycoon, Nabil Karoui. He became known and popular through his charity work in poor neighborhoods and neglected regions of the country.  He is currently in jail for alleged embezzlement and tax fraud.

The other favorite candidates are Youssef Chahed, the current prime minister, and Abdelkrim Zbidi, the minister of defense, an independent close to the late president Essebsi and his Nidaa Tounes party and considered a man of great integrity, and quite popular for that reason in these times of high levels of corruption. Both belong to the center-right tendency in Tunisian politics and do not really question the neoliberal orientations of the country. The other main contender is Abdelfattah Mourou, the 71-year-old co-founder of the Islamist Ennahdha party, and its first candidate for the presidency. He is expected to do relatively well, but not enough to stand in the second round of the elections.

Unless a candidate obtains the absolute majority in the first round, the candidates, and especially their parties, will face a major challenge: that of preparing parallel legislative elections scheduled for October 6, and immediately after that, the second round of the presidential election, which should be held on October 23.

Preliminary results will be announced on Tuesday by the election authority, but, as reported by the Reuters news agency this Monday (Sept.16, 2019) morning, “partial election results showed two political outsiders leading the race to become Tunisian president after exit polls showed them advancing to a second-round runoff next month.” Adding that “the independent election commission said conservative law professor Kais Saied and detained media magnate Nabil Karoui were leading.” “If their lead holds, it would represent an earthquake in Tunisian politics and a strong rejection of successive governments …” (Nejib Ayachi)