Bloomberg News

Tunisia Islamic Party Considers Alliances With Secularists

October 25, 2011

(Updates with latest results starting in second paragraph.)

Oct. 25 (Bloomberg) -- Tunisia’s Islamic Ennahdha party said it is discussing alliances with secular groups after the first elections in an Arab country since uprisings began.

Early results show that Ennahdha, banned until six months ago, won 30 percent of the vote for the 217-seat Constituent Assembly, Abdelhamid Jalase, the party’s campaign director, said yesterday. Ali Aridhi, a member of Ennahdha’s executive bureau, said he expects the party to take as many as half the seats. Ennahdha has so far taken 15 seats out of 39 in five districts, Boubaker Ben Thabet, secretary-general of the Independent High Authority for Elections in Tunis, told reporters today.

“Tunisia, which has ignited the first spark for the Arab Spring, is now igniting a second spark: the possibility of having moderate Islamists in power,” Tunisian writer and political analyst Salah Attia said today by phone from Tunis, the capital. “This used to be a taboo and there were western reservations about such a thing.”

Tunisia’s uprising inspired revolts across the Middle East and North Africa this year that became known as the Arab Spring. Its election for an assembly that will write a new constitution is widely seen as a test of democratization efforts across the region. More than 90 percent of the 4.1 million registered Tunisian voters cast ballots.

‘Democratic Framework’

“A victory of the Islamist movement within a democratic framework will certainly affect the power equations elsewhere in the region,” Tunisian political writer Zyed Krichen said in a telephone interview. “It will, without a doubt, give momentum to Islamist groups in the region from Palestine to Morocco to Egypt to Syria.”

Samir Ben Amor, a member of the executive board of the Congress for the Republic, said his party is ready to forge an alliance with Ennahdha as long as that leads to a unity administration. “We welcome the proposal of Ennahdha to form a coalition government, as it is a vital step in the right direction and takes into account the interests of the country at this critical time.”

Ennahdha’s leaders say they have a moderate interpretation of Islamic law. The party supports religious freedom for all, they say, and won’t touch Tunisia’s family law, which in the 1950s abolished polygamy and gave women equal rights with men, including for divorce.

‘Serious Talks’

“Ennahdha had serious talks during the electoral campaign and after the elections with secular parties like Ettakatol and the Congress for the Republic,” Aridhi said today. “We do not want to monopolize power; we call for a coalition or a national unity government.”

Ennahdha, led by Rashid Ghannouchi, entered the vote as frontrunner, according to an OpinionWay poll released just before a pre-election polling ban took effect on Oct. 1.

The Tunisian vote was held as Libya’s new leaders, who had revolted against the rule of Muammar Qaddafi in February, declared the “liberation” of their country following his Oct. 20 killing.

In a liberation ceremony, the chairman of the National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, struck an Islamic tone as he talked about post-Qaddafi Libya. He said any statute that is contrary to the “principles” of Islamic law, or Shariah, is void and that the country will seek a Shariah- compliant banking industry. He later said Libya will be a “moderate” Muslim nation.

Islamists in Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country and the second after Tunisia to oust its leader, are expected by many Egyptians to have strong support in parliamentary elections scheduled to start on Nov. 28.

--With assistance from Mahmoud Kassem in Cairo. Editors: Heather Langan, Eddie Buckle.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jihen Laghmari in Tunis through the Cairo newsroom at jlaghmari@bloomberg.net; Mariam Fam in Cairo at mfam1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net.


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