Keristiena Shenouda summarises the Arab Uprisings and the start of the ‘democratic’ election process.
The Arab uprisings began in Tunisia and triggered mass protests that swept the Arab world. In Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya protesters successfully ousted their leaders, yet in many other nations such as Yemen, Syria, Bahrain and even Saudi Arabia, protesters continue to give their lives to achieve political change.
On December 17, 2010, the 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi set himself ablaze in Tunisia after continuous police humiliation and economic hardship. On January 4, 2011, Bouazizi died due to his injuries, leaving behind thousands of mobilised civilians calling for economic reforms and an end to the corruption, which later led to calls for the fall of the regime. The protests sparked the force that ended the 23-year reign of former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.
Yet removing the head of government does not guarantee a different political course. Today’s elections play a pivotal role in determining the success of Tunisia’s revolution.
Meanwhile, inspired by the Tunisian people, Egyptian protesters ended former President Husni Mubarak’s 30-year authoritarian rule, following 18 days of demonstrations across the country. Since Mubarak’s ouster in February, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has controlled Egypt, and will remain in power until the first round of next month’s parliamentary elections establish a new government.
While Mubarak is on trial for corruption charges and ordering the murder of protesters during last February, citizens remain highly critical of the military’s role after the former president stepped down. Despite protesters’ demands to lift the controversial emergency laws, which have been in effect since 1981, the military has extended limiting citizens’ civil rights severely. The military is furthermore criticised for postponing the promised elections, and importantly giving no guarantees that former regime members will not return to power after the vote. In addition to this, the military refuses to allow foreign election monitors.
According to Egyptian State Television, the elections will take place in three rounds, starting on November 28. The Muslim Brotherhood is expected to win many seats in the coming elections. The political party was previously banned under Mubarak, but this was lifted after Mubarak’s ouster.
Following the death of Muammar Gaddafi on October 20, the National Transitional Council has promised to hold national elections within the coming eight months - choosing the members of the National Council, which will draft the new constitution. After this, parliamentary and presidential elections are expected to take place.
Nine months after pro-democracy protests ousted Ben Ali, Tunisian voters have the opportunity to elect the 217 representatives to the Constituent Assembly on October 23. The assembly will have one year to draft a new constitution, replacing the 1959 Constitution devised by the regime of Habib Bourghiba. Representatives will also decide on the type of government Tunisia will have and the Assembly will appoint a new transitional government to oversee the country over the next year.
Today, Tunisian voters choose their representatives out of 11,000 candidates representing over 80 different political parties. Half of the candidates are female.
To participate in the elections, political parties required approval from the interim-government; 162 parties were not included based on what the government qualified as ‘lack of respect for democracy’. One of these parties was the Salafist Hizb ut-Tahrir group, which advocates a strict interpretation of Islam.
Human Rights Watch has voiced some concern regarding the elections, and argued that, “Many Tunisians are unfamiliar with their position, [the running parties] and programs, since the handful of older parties were largely prevented from functioning under former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and the newer parties came into existence only since January.” Furthermore, only a few political parties have the financial capabilities to launch a national election campaign.
One of the parties that was banned under Ben Ali, the moderate Islamic political party En-Nahda, has been leading the opinion polls. Its main competitor is the secular Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), one of the few groups that existed during Ben Ali’s reign.
If today’s elections prove to be successful in bringing about democratic change in a peaceful, transparent, and fair manner, it is likely to stimulate and motivate many protesters throughout the Arab world to continue their struggle against authoritarian regimes, particularly in those countries in which change seems to be so far away.