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After Tunisia's Election The Elliott School of International Affairs The Lindner Family Commons, 1957 E Street NW, Washington, D.C. Wednesday November 2, 2011, 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. On Wednesday, the Project on Middle East Political Science (POMEPS) at George Washington University hosted a panel discussion entitled "After Tunisia's Election" to assess the results of Tunisia's October 23 elections and their implications for the nation moving forward. Melani Cammett of Brown University, Chris Alexander of Davidson College, and John P. Entelis of Fordham University offered remarks. POMEPS Director Marc Lynch moderated the event. Cammet began the panel discussion by analyzing the success of Islamist party Ennahda in the Constituent Assembly elections, noting that they did not secure a majority of the popular vote. She pointed out that those parties which fared well had adopted a moderate stance on the secularIslamist divide, pledging to form a coalition with Ennahda. Similarly, those parties which were vehemently opposed to Ennahda garnered less favorable results. Ennahda's continuous presence and activism through informal social networks and grassroots connections, even in the relatively oppressed political environment of Ben Ali's Tunisia, propelled its success. Cammet concluded her remarks by stating that while it is very exciting to observe the smoothness with which Tunisia's elections took place, "serious challenges lie ahead." Ennahda and other players will "have to govern" and confront difficult practical issues like youth unemployment. Alexander echoed Cammet's assessment that Ennahda's victory came as "no real surprise," as it was a product of adequate monetary backing, superior organization maintained at the grassroots level especially since 2005, and a "very smart big tent" political agenda. Ennahda, he added, mustered support from social conservatives without a particularly religious ideology in addition to Salafists and Ennahda's traditional voting base. While Ennahda's success was expected, the relatively poor results achieved by the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) were more surprising. The PDP was less successful, Alexander argued, because "Tunisian voters rejected polarized politics" and shared a commitment to working in a coalition. The three parties that will govern in a coalition of national unity, Ettakatol, Ennahda, and Congress for the Republic (CPR), share many objectives, including a "clear commitment to human rights," a preference for a parliamentary system, and an emphasis on Tunisia's Arab and Muslim identity. Regardless of the cooperation among coalition parties, Alexander asserted that "at the end of the day, Ennahda did dominate," so it is significant whether they "mean their democratic pledge." Alexander was confident in Ennahda's commitment to democracy. Ennahda's mission, he said, "is not to radically remake Tunisian society." So, "from Ennahda's perspective," he added, "there is no need to force Islam" upon Tunisian society; rather, their success is seen as a "validating and liberating" result for Tunisia's cultural identity, which they feel has been suppressed by a secular, European-style elite.

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Alexander concluded his remarks with two questions. First, will Tunisia's democratic transition remain on track through its first constitutional and electoral processes? Secondly, will Ennahda be successful in maintaining internal democracy in addition to macro-level democracy? He noted that those in government will have to manage the "very high expectations" prevalent among the population. Entelis argued that Tunisia is characterized by a diverse political and cultural environment; it is "not homogenous." He pondered to what extent generational, ideological, and social divides will resurface as Tunisia transitions to "politics as usual." He added that the "people who made the revolution" are mostly young, "autonomous" individuals whose identities are not predicated upon any institutional framework. Thus, it will be interesting to observe whether these revolutionaries will view Tunisia's future political system as legitimate. Lynch began the question and answer session by inquiring as to whether Tunisias or any democratically-elected government will be able to address the fundamental ways in which power, wealth, and politics function. In other words, will a democratically-elected government successfully confront issues like the disenfranchisement of youth? Cammet added that the problems of poverty, illiteracy, and social dislocation are especially severe in Tunisia's interior areas. In response to a question of how Tunisia's experience could relate to that of Egypt, Cammet said that Egypt constitutes an entirely different case because of economics. The two cases are similar, however, in that there is a conflict between the people who began the revolutions and the people in power. In Tunisia, however, there are "more voices at the table." She concluded that Egypt and Tunisia are characterized more by their differences than their similarities. Alexander added that in regards to how Ennahda may fare in future elections, if Tunisia's democracy can survive until the next elections, then "that will be the real benchmark" of its democratic transition. Meanwhile, in response to a question about how Tunisia could serve as a model for nations undergoing similar transitions, Entelis asserted that "wherever there is a free election, Islamists will win," noting that the region "was depoliticized for so long," lending Islamists an upper hand. Entelis also added that if the Tunisian revolution shifts from being about fundamental change to being about mere regime change, then people will return to the streets in protest. Alexander said that parties have experienced difficulty in trying to tap into the youth vote. He added that "young Tunisians have a different notion of what constitutes effective political change." For them, he argued, parties symbolize corruption, the old generation, and internal fragmentation. They perceive political party involvement as a "waste of time" in comparison to civil society involvement. Therefore, low party engagement among youth does not necessarily signal total youth exclusion; rather, youth engagement is simply located elsewhere. Parties will be faced with the challenge, then, of establishing legitimacy with Tunisian youth. Alexander concluded by saying that the process of constitution-making may be more "compelling" for youth than the elections were.

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