FROM THE ANTHOLOGY: The Arab Spring at Five

Democracy by Necessity

Tunisians Go to the Polls

Supporters of Nidaa Tounes wave flags in Tunis, December 21, 2014. Zoubeir Souissi / Courtesy Reuters

After three years of battles in the streets, in the National Constituent Assembly, and at the ballot box, Tunisia has officially completed its formal transition to democracy—to the acclaim of observers gratified that the Arab Spring kept its promise in at least one country. What is emerging at the end of the process, however, is not a government that is rooted in the revolution and likely to forge ahead with bold reforms, but an uneasy amalgam of old-regime and Islamist politicians, with a few leftist parties and trade unions thrown in for good measure. In other words, the 2011 uprising did not give rise to new political parties or movements. And the young people who played an important part in the protests feel sidelined, at least if their low turnout at the polls is any indication. Nevertheless, this is probably as successful a transition as it was realistic to expect.


The recent parliamentary and presidential elections did not give a clear victory to either the Islamist Ennahda Party or to Nida Tounes, the broad coalition party that was cobbled together for the sole purpose of defeating Ennahda. Nida Tounes’ founder, Beji Caid Essebsi, won the presidential elections with 55.6 percent of the vote; his party won 37 percent of the parliamentary vote and control of 89 of 217 parliamentary seats. But this is not enough to marginalize Ennahda, as many in Nida Tounes would like to do. Ennahda obtained 27 percent of the parliamentary vote and 69 seats, and it will be impossible for Nida Tounes to exclude it from the governing coalition if it wants to create a cabinet backed by a stable majority. Negotiations to form the new government have not yet started, but a preview of the compromises that are likely to be struck has already been offered by the parliament. Reflecting the necessity for power sharing, Nida Tounes and Ennahda agreed that Mohammed Ennaceur of Nida Tounes would become speaker and Abdelfattah Mourou of Ennahda would become deputy

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