Orderly Tunisia voting possible model for rest of conflict-laden region

By Paul Schemm ,AP

TUNIS, Tunisia — Tunisia’s orderly parliamentary elections are being hailed as a model of democracy for a region torn by strife and full of dictatorships. Regional rivalries, however, may put pressures on this fledgling democracy to move away from the dialogue and consensus that has made the country’s transition a success so far.

On Sunday, Tunisian voters punished the Islamist Ennahda Party that had run the country for two stormy years after the 2011 revolution and gave the most seats to Nida Tunis, a party of old regime officials, businessmen and leftists who banded together specifically to unseat the Islamists.

Yet with nearly a third of the seats in the 217-member parliament �X just 16 less than Nida Tunis �X Ennahda remains a significant force in the country. Any effort to exclude them, which would likely be encouraged by regional heavyweights like Saudi Arabia, could undermine precisely what has made the transition work until now.

Prominent columnist Rami Khouri, a former executive editor of Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper, described the Tunisian elections as ��the most significant domestic and national political development in the modern history of the Arab world,�� lauding how Tunisians came together peacefully to write and pass a new constitution by the end of 2013 and then hold elections in 2014. Despite social unrest and severe economic challenges, Tunisia’s different factions were able to agree and compromise for the sake of national unity, ��in sharp contrast with the hysteria and hallucinatory emotional excesses�� in Egypt where the army overthrew the elected Islamist president to great popular acclaim, Khouri wrote Wednesday in the Daily Star.

Tunisia’s Islamists ruled in a coalition with secular parties and when popular unrest mounted in 2013 over security failures and economic problems, Ennahda willingly stepped down in favor of a government of technocrats.

At the same time that Tunisians were voting, in neighboring Libya the death toll from militias battling over Benghazi was mounting while Egypt was sentencing activists to prison for protesting and expanding the powers of military courts to try civilians.

Activists in neighboring Algeria, where earlier this year the long-serving president received 80 percent of the vote despite being confined to a wheelchair after suffering a stroke, pronounced themselves jealous of Tunisians.

Editor Lounes Guemmache of the influential online news site Tout Sur Algerie said Tunisia erased the mistakes of Algeria’s own failed democratic experiment when an Islamist victory at the polls in 1991 resulted in a military coup that plunged the country into a decade of bloody civil war. ��A democratic process with Islamist forces is possible,�� he wrote.

In Egypt, however, the opposite lesson has been learned and the press has portrayed the elections as yet another regional defeat for Islamist parties �X directly equating Ennahda with Egypt’s fallen and banned Muslim Brotherhood.

��Tunisians celebrate bringing down the Brotherhood,�� crowed the daily Al-Akhbar, while Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper said, ��The failure of Islamist rule knocks out Tunisia’s Brotherhood.��