Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development

Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development

Tunisia Elections Highlight Challenges Facing Arab Civic Participation but Also Show Encouraging Signs- 15 May 2018


Image: Anne Wolf via Twitter

AMMAN--Tunisia had its first-ever free municipal-level elections last Sunday, a truly historic step and one of the more positive outcomes from the revolutions and unrest that have gripped the MENA region since 2011.

An impressive number of parties competed for votes, and the victors varied by region.  Among the more groundbreaking highlights, it seems Tunis will have its first female mayor, SouadAbderrahim, of the Ennahda party, yet another breakthrough for the advancement of women’s rights in the country.

However, according to one of the Tunisian activists contacted by The Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD), another political party, NidaTounes, is trying to obstruct Abderrahim’s appointment as a mayor.

Additionally, as has too often been the case, turnout was low, especially among youth.  ARDD reached out to young adults of voting-age in Tunisia who ended up boycotting the elections and expressed high-levels of frustration about both voting and participation.

One young Tunisian named Hamdi said he did not vote because he did not have faith in the government.

An educator named Saber also opened up: “First, I don’t care about municipal elections because I am from a rural area that does not have a municipality, and we do not enjoy the services provided by the state through the municipalities. Secondly, the establishment of democracy requires the establishment of a high level of education, not the establishment of parliamentary councils and more parliamentary councils. Another reason for me, as an educator, to not participate in the elections.”

ARDD’s mission is to encourage political participation and civic engagement throughout the region, especially for women, young people, and underrepresented communities.  Participation of young men and women is particularly crucial for any national and democratic justice frameworks to succeed, and to advance the true spirit of the Arab Renaissance, the success of which depends on the rising generation more than other.

A silver lining is that the turnout is not as low as it would first seem: turnout was far higher, at 33.7%, than comparable elections in some older, more established democracies.

ARDD welcomes the major step forward taken by Tunisia and its people and their democracy, leading the way for further advancing democracy in the region and the renewal of the spirit of the Arab Renaissance that promotes inclusive political representation and participation in the Arab world.

One young Tunisian named Feryal rejected the cynicism of others in her cohort, calling on them to give democracy and participation in it a chance:

“The elections results were expected. We should not boycott the elections. We believe in democratic and peaceful transitions. Elections are the best path to making Tunisia more democratic. We must now use these elections to push for more democratic policies overall in our cities and in Tunisia as a whole.”