|As the results come in for Tunisia’s first free and fair democratic elections, the pro-Islamic an-Nahda Party looks set to be the largest party in the new government according to coverage in the BBC, The Guardian, The Independent and The Daily Telegraph. |
An-Nahda currently has just over 42% of the seats, with secular parties, with whom an-Nahda will likely form a coalition government making up the rest of the votes. An estimated 90% of registered voters flocked to the polling booths this week to cast their ballot. The elections mark not only a massive milestone for Tunisians but for the entire Arab world, as these are the first elections to take place since the Arab Spring began last winter.
What a pity then, that at this critical juncture for Tunisia and the MENA region, The Daily Telegraph should ominously warn of "dark forces" at work in these fledgling democracies.
The Daily Telegraph editorial yesterday fearfully forebodes that “There was always a danger that dark forces would lie behind the Arab awakening.”
On Libya, the editorial argues that “the country's new leaders want their government to be based on sharia, a conservative form of Islamic government that is the antithesis of the West’s concept of personal liberty.”
The editorial ignores the consistent assurances that have been given by the leadership of an-Nahda that the west’s fears are not only misplaced, but misrepresent the priorities and ethos of the political movement the Arab Spring has gushed forth.
In a comment piece for the Guardian last week, Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of an-Nahda, maintained that it has,
“long advocated democracy within the mainstream trend of political Islam, which we feel is the best system that protects against injustice and authoritarianism. In addition, it provides institutions and mechanisms to guarantee personal and public liberties, most importantly the peaceful transfer of power through the mechanism of elections, respect of the popular will, protection of the rights of women, separation of powers, independence of the judiciary, press and media freedom and protection of minority rights.”
In an interview in yesterday's Guardian, Ghannouchi asserted that Tunisia will maintain its status as a Muslim country but not declare itself an ‘Islamic republic'.
On gender equality, always a bone of contention, he emphasised that an-Nahda will not touch the legal code, “which made it [Tunisia] the only country in the Arab world to outlaw polygamy, mandated women's approval to get married and set limits on a man's power to divorce.”
Most importantly, Ghannouchi maintains that an-Nahda’s goal is not “winning the forthcoming elections but rather a successful transition towards democracy so that we can make a clear break with the past.”
For the Daily Telegraph to suggest that ‘dark forces’ are at play is to undermine the legitimate aspirations of the Middle Eastern and North African peoples for a clean break from the past and for a democratic future. It was precisely this type of presumptive hubris that led western governments to defend the imposition of a brutal military junta in Algeria after the Islamic Salvation Front’s election victory in 1991. Not to mention the sidelining of Hamas following its election win in Gaza in January 2006. Peter Oborne put it well in an article for the Sunday Telegraph last week,
“Those autocratic regimes were, without exception, created or sponsored by the West… Their security forces were often trained by us; their torturers collaborated with us; and our corporations did very profitable business with them.
“The Arab Spring has certainly been a victory of freedom and decency against barbarity and repression. But it has also been, in a very fundamental way…a revolt against Western post-colonial domination.”
Two decades on from the calamity in Algeria, the west has a chance to redeem itself by respecting the choices of the indigenous populations. If western governments are to escape charges of hypocrisy and salvage their reputations as defenders of human rights, they must come to terms with the plurality and legitimacy of the many types of political movements that are shaping these nascent democracies, 'Islamist' or otherwise.
Read ENGAGE's letter to the editor here.
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