25th Mar 2023

An MEP in Tunis: Women, Islamists do well in election

  • Tunisia election poster. About 110 parties ran, but only six or seven are likely to make it into parliament (Photo: European Parliament)

The first post-Arab Spring election has boosted the profile of women in Arab politics and is likely to yield an Islamist winner, according to an MEP who monitored the vote.

Portuguese socialist deputy Ana Gomes told EUobserver from Tunisia on Monday (24 October) that based on information from her monitoring group, the US-based National Democratic Intsitute, out of the 110 parties which ran, about six will make it to parliament and the moderate Islamist Ennahda party will get the most seats.

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The official result is due late on Monday or on Tuesday.

There will probably be few women MPs. But women played a prominent role in the vote - each party had to put up 50 percent female candidates and women made up the bulk of the 13,000 domestic election observers.

"Attendance was massive, massive ... between 80 percent and 85 percent. It was very orderly and peaceful. It's a great statement about the Tunisians. People are very proud, very conscious of the impact this will have beyond their country, to encourage all those who are fighting for democracy," Gomes said.

She added that the "democratic maturity" of Tunisian society comes from its history of secularism, high levels of education and from its links with Europe through the Tunisian diaspora and tourism.

Meanwhile, the strength of Islamist groups in the region, including in Libya and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, is in part a reaction to the Western legacy in Iraq and its support for old Middle East dictators, as well as due to money from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Gomes, the EU parliament's rapportuer on Libya and a former Portuguese abassador to Indonesia, said she was "not happy" to hear Libyan rebel leader Abdul Jalil this weekend call for sharia law in Libya.

She voiced confidence that Libyan elections, due in eight months' time, will be free and fair, however: "Having seen how open the Libyans are to advice from abroad and from those who have gone through the same experience, including Tunisia, I am sure the process in Libya can go well."

She noted the Tunisian example has already prompted Egypt to send out invitations for Western election monitors despite previous reluctance.

But she was less confident that Egypt's vote, due in November, will go smoothly.

"Egypt will be a more difficult challenge ... In Tunisia, the faith that ordinary people had in the independent electoral committee was extremely important. In Egypt, I am sorry, but I am not so optimistic," she said. "The difference is in the attitude [of openness to Western advisors and to the Tunisian model]. In Egypt I haven't seen much of this."

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