"Let's not be too pessimistic about Tunisia's future!"

Analysis, posted 11.30.2011, from Tunisia, in:
"Let's not be too pessimistic about Tunisia's future!" (Photo: Kaptialis)

Summary: In an interview with Richard Darmon of the Francophone Jerusalem newspaper "Hamodia," Claude Sitbon, a French-Israeli Jew of Tunisian origin as well as a historian of Tunisian Jews, argues for measured optimism following the Tunisian Islamist party Ennahdha's electoral victory. Sitbon bases his optimism on Tunisia's "long history of openness [ouverture]" and his particular vision of the Tunisian Islamist party Ennahdha, which he describes as simply an "Islamist lobby" that failed to convince more than half of the country's voters (winning 40% of votes and 'losing' 60%').  Sitbon also describes the climate in the Tunisian Jewish community, where there is a "sort of free-floating anxiety and incertitude."

Asked about Ennahdha's success in the October 23rd elections, Sitbon emphasizes the numerous votes for non-Islamist parties, which he described as votes 'for democracy': "I think that instead of dramatizing the 40% of votes obtained by Ennahdha, we need to read the results in the opposite way: after 24 years of dictatorship and going to the polls freely for the first time in a sort of 'civic celebration' - without too many instances of electoral fraud - 60% of Tunisians voted for democracy and against the Islamist party."

According to Sitbon, the Islamist party Ennahdha managed "too easily to tailor an image of a 'martyr party,'" which, he says, "was worth thousands of millions of protester votes, Islamist or not, all of the family and those close to the numerous militants of the opposition imprisoned under the former regime."

Sitbon further suggests that the Ennahdha Movement wishes to profit from the Jasmine Revolution," a revolution "that it didn't make," and "from the State," though the party, Sitbon claims, does not wish to actually run the country.  Sitbon further asserts that, as a one-year limit has been imposed on the Constituent Assembly for its task of writing a new constitution, "next year there will be another round of much more decisive elections, intended to elect this time a parliament and a president!"

Sitbon insists that the "too alarmist, even too romantic journalistic language" about Tunisia be done away with. Tunisia is, Sitbon says, "before everything a mediterranean country," with a "long history of openness [ouverture], notably thanks to the famous liberal laws decreed since 1956 under [Habib] Bourguiba [the country's first president] on the status of women (the right to vote, the end of polygamy, abortion, marriage reform, etc.)."  Sitbon continues, "Since then, several generations of citizens of this country have been steeped in a sort of progressive openness."

Asked about the climate in the Tunisian Jewish Community, Sitbon admits that there is a "sort of free-floating anxiety and incertitude, among the 1,500 Jews of Tunisia, especially after the hardly ambiguous words of [Tunisian Islamist party head, Rached] Ghannouchi, which called Israel a 'vermin that will soon be destroyed.'" Sitbon also named Ghannouchi's [pro-Arabization] declaration against the utilization of French as a source of worry.

Yet, Sitbon finishes the interview excerpt by reaffirming that anti-Jewish incidents remain minimal: "aside from certain rare openly anti-semite outbursts - like the Islamist protest last February in front of the Great Synagogue of Tunis where cries of 'Death to Israel' and 'Death to Jews' were heard - there exist in fact many fewer risks for anti-Jewish incidents in Tunisia.... than in France!"

Original Language Text: 

Auteur de plusieurs ouvrages sur les Juifs de Tunisie (*) et pressenti, au début du processus de paix d’Oslo, pour devenir le premier ambassadeur d’Israël à Tunis au cas où les deux pays auraient pu ouvrir des relations diplomatique pleines et entières, Claude Sitbon donne ici un éclairage plutôt positif sur la situation prévalant dans ce pays au lendemain de la victoire du parti islamiste Ennahdha.

Hamodia : Comment analysez-vous le succès d’Ennahdha aux élections du 23 octobre ?

Claude Sitbon : Je crois qu’au lieu de trop dramatiser les 40% de voix obtenues par Ennahdha, il faut lire ces résultats à l’inverse : après 24 années de dictature et se rendant pour la première fois librement aux urnes en une sorte de «fête civique» – sans trop de fraudes électorales –, 60% des Tunisiens ont voté pour la démocratie et contre le parti islamiste !

Un beau score, d’autant qu’Ennahdha –qui fut interdit sous Bourguiba et Ben Ali, et dont le chef, Rached Ghannouchi, s’est réfugié à Londres… mais ni au Caire ou à Téhéran !– s’est trop facilement taillé une image de «parti-martyr». Ce qui lui a valu des centaines de milliers de voix protestataires, islamistes ou pas, de toutes les familles et proches des nombreux militants de l’opposition emprisonnés sous l’ancien régime.

Or Ennahdha n’est pas du tout un parti de gouvernement à vocation nationale ni doté d’ambition politique pour exercer le pouvoir : c’est plutôt un «lobby» islamiste qui veut profiter de la Révolution du Jasmin –qu’il n’a pas faite!– et de l’Etat, mais pas pour le diriger…

De plus, le scrutin du 23 octobre n’a fait que désigner une Assemblée constituante pour une durée d’un an seulement, car il y aura dès l’an prochain un autre scrutin encore bien plus décisif censé élire cette fois un parlement et un président !