Situation Assessment 25 December, 2011

Tunisian elections: The reasons behind the failure of the modernists and the problems caused by the victory of al-Nahda


Mouldi Lahmar

Lahmar is a Professor at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, having previously been a member of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Tunisia. He was also a Lecturer in the Faculty of Arts in the University of Tripoli (formerly, Al-Fateh University) from 1993 and until 1996. Lahmar is a specialist in in Libyan affairs and analysis of colonialism, and is the author of the following works in Arabic: Selective Dissolution and Growth in the Tunisian Countryside (2003), and The Social Roots of the Modern State in Libya (2009). He has also translated numerous books, and participated in dozens of symposiums and conferences.


 In the last ten months, the Tunisian people have achieved several important goals through their revolution. They have toppled an established dictatorial and bureaucratic regime, one that robbed them and took away their dignity for many years. They reformulated internal socio-political forces into a new shape, the Constituent Assembly of Tunisia, which manages the relations between those forces and the people. They posed fundamental - old and new - questions to the cultural elite regarding the way to harmonize between their historical identity, linked to economic systems, socio-political relations, and intellectual and cultural models needing review, and the spirit of a new age keen on democracy, personal freedom, the constructive acceptance of differences, and the right to a decent living. This new age depends on systems and institutions being established by the people that would not need to be reviewed except whenever it becomes a necessity. During this process of reformation, different forces in the country fought against each other and political incidents occurred, some of which were very dangerous, but were overcome by the Tunisian people. In the end legal legitimacy returned to the new political elite, who will take over the reins of power through transparent, democratic elections.

The questions that local and international observers are looking to answer now are:

  • How do we explain or understand the results of the constituent elections in Tunisia?
  • Why have none of the parties representing modernist movements (those who call for the separation of religious beliefs and politics) won first place in the elections, although Tunisians are known for a cultural openness and intellectual modernity that began in the mid-19th century?
  • Why did the Islamic al-Nahda Party win the highest percentage of seats in the Constituent Assembly, even though a significant number of its leaders were previously abroad or in prison?
  • Al-Nahda Party was not even involved with the outbreak of the revolution or in leading it, so what does that imply?
  • What was the position of the supporters of the dissolved Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) in these elections?
  • After successfully receiving twenty percent of votes in the current Tunisian elections, short of the forty-one percent needed to singularly compose a transitional government, how much power in the new government will al-Nahda Party have? 

To read the full text, click on the image below.