On October 26, Tunisians made headlines by shifting their post-Arab Spring politics in favor of a secular party. With more than 60 percent turnout, Tunisians elected the Nidaa Tunis party and pushed the leading Islamist party, Ennahda, into second place. Some Western analysts quickly cited this outcome as evidence of Tunisia’s political evolution, equating secularism with more predictable, stable, and less ideological governance.
But the U.S. government should not rush to check Tunisia’s transition as complete just yet. This election-day optimism belies the complexity and fragility of Tunisia’s political and governing landscape. Presidential elections on November 23 and parliamentary coalition building could still shift the political balance. More worrisome is the very real threat of exclusionary, divisive politics or of subtle co-optation of state institutions—as seen in Egypt and Libya. The people’s central election mandate—demand for economic and security reforms that will jump-start job growth and counter terrorism threats—also underestimates complex, difficult trade-offs among Tunisian interest groups. The challenges resulting from coalition and opposition politics could slow these desperately desired reforms and disillusion Tunisians with the democratic process.
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