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Tunisia holds first municipal elections since Arab Spring

International | Analysts say the vote could resolve growing dissatisfaction with democracy
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 5/08/18, 01:16 pm

Tunisians on Sunday voted in municipal elections for the first time since the 2011 Arab Spring revolution. Despite low voter turnout amid widespread economic dissatisfaction, analysts believe the elections could serve as a significant step in Tunisia’s move toward full democracy. 

More than 57,000 candidates, half of them women and adults younger than 35, contested for office in the country’s 350 municipalities. In 2017, the Tunisian parliament passed a law requiring every political party to present female candidates, at least three young people, and one person with a disability. 

In Tunis, the capital city, Souad Abderrahim is set to become the first female mayor. Initial exit polls broadcast by state television showed the Islamist Ennahdha movement party with the most winners, followed by President Beji Caid Essebi’s Nida Tounes party. The two parties currently run the central government in a coalition. 

Ennahdha spokesman Imed Khemiri said the party will continue to maintain its agreement with its partners. “It’s important that the two main parties won, and it’s important for the political balance in the country,” he said. 

But voter turnout remained at about 33 percent. Prime Minister Youssef Chahed called for more focus on local concerns and said voters’ “reticence” to participate in the election should serve as a wake-up call to politicians. 

Tunisia emerged as the only democracy among Arab nations roiled by the 2011 revolution. But the country continues to battle economic woes. The government’s move in January to implement a new budget that increased prices and taxes on basic goods sparked protests in more than 20 towns. Many of the demonstrators complained the hikes came amid widespread unemployment and low wages. 

Ala Oueslati, a Tunisian activist, noted the election’s initial objective is not about the party that won but on allowing Tunisians “to participate and engage making decisions related to their regional needs, especially during a period marked by economic difficulties, unemployment, and a common loss of faith in the system.” 

Some of the parties focused their campaigns on regional needs, promising local participation in government, reforms to local health clinics, and efforts to reduce mosquitoes.

“These party platforms seem to signal that municipal elections are pushing Tunisia’s leading parties to become more responsive to citizens’ concerns,” said Elizabeth Nugent, a research fellow with the Middle East Institute at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “But whether the national government will continue to empower municipalities to pursue these programs remains to be seen.”

Associated Press/Photo by Hassan Ammar Associated Press/Photo by Hassan Ammar The deputy chief of Hezbollah, Sheik Naim Kassem, poses after casting his vote in Beirut.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah gains ground in parliamentary vote

Lebanon’s first parliamentary election in nine years brought victory to the Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group and its allies as the major Western-backed faction lost a third of its seats.

The Sunday vote saw Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement win just 21 seats, 11 fewer than it won in the 2009 elections. Hariri blamed the loss on a scheme to eliminate his party but pledged to participate “in securing political stability and to improve the lives of all the Lebanese.”

Hezbollah and its allies won at least 43 seats in the vote. “This is a major political, parliamentarian, and moral victory for the resistance,” Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech. The United States declared the Shiite Hezbollah group a terrorist organization after it joined the Syrian war in 2012. 

The election’s outcome is expected to increase Iran’s influence in Lebanon, part of a broader regional expansion both Israel and Saudi Arabia oppose. “The State of Israel will not differentiate between the sovereign State of Lebanon and Hezbollah, and will view Lebanon as responsible for any action from within the country,” Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett warned. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Amr Nabil Associated Press/Photo by Amr Nabil Relatives of Coptic Christians grieve during a funeral service in Cairo.

Coptic leaders warn of uptick in kidnappings

At least seven Coptic Egyptian women and girls disappeared in April, sparking fears of a campaign targeting Christians. According to World Watch Monitor and church leaders, the missing include two mothers and five students at secondary schools or universities. Their families believe the kidnappers took the women for forced conversion to Islam and marriage. They publicly criticized police for indifference to their plight.

Christine Lamie, a wife and mother of two, disappeared April 7 following Facebook threats against her. Days later, police told her husband, Bahaa Girgis, that she had willingly converted to Islam. But Girgis and the family’s priest refuse to believe that, insisting “she was pressured and threatened.”

Claire Evans of International Christian Concern said such cases are not unusual. Coptic Solidarity’s Lindsay Griffin said it can be very difficult to verify abductions because of pressure put on Coptic families to retract their statements.

Open Doors reported 15 girls from Minya were kidnapped, forcibly married, and converted to Islam in 2017. Last year, World Watch Monitor interviewed the former member of a kidnapping ring targeting Coptic women that included Egyptian police officers. —Julia A. Seymour

Pakistan minister survives shooting attack

Pakistani Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal remains in stable condition after a gunman shot him as he left a public meeting with constituents on Sunday. Authorities linked the gunman, 22-year-old Abid Hussain, to a hard-line Islamic group. Police arrested Hussain immediately after he shot Iqbal at close range. Mohammad Ameer, the chief physician at the hospital treating Iqbal, said the bullet fractured his right arm and lodged in his abdomen.

Hussain belongs to the Labaik Ya Rasoolallah group, which has pushed for strengthening blasphemy legislation. The group’s leader, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, condemned the attack and said the group called for “an unarmed struggle to bring the prophet’s religion to the throne.” Iqbal belongs to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party, which will wrap up its five-year tenure this month. Pakistan is set to hold parliamentary elections July 15. The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad condemned the attack and wished Iqbal a speedy recovery. —O.O.

German Red Cross worker kidnapped in Somalia

Armed gunmen in war-torn Somalia kidnapped a German nurse after storming into the compound of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the capital, Mogadishu. 

The ICRC said in a statement that the gunmen abducted the nurse Wednesday evening. “We are deeply concerned about the safety of our colleague,” said Daniel O’Malley, the ICRC’s deputy head of regulation in Somalia. “She is a nurse who was working every day to save lives and improve the health of some of Somalia’s most vulnerable people.” Police Capt. Mohamed Hussein said authorities arrested several security guards who were present in the compound when the abduction occurred.

The attack is the latest targeting aid workers in the country. On Tuesday, two gunmen shot and killed a Somali World Health Organization employee in a Mogadishu market. In March, a local Red Cross employee died after a bomb attached to his car exploded. —O.O.

Liu Xiaobo’s widow laments house arrest

Liu Xia, the wife of the late Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, told a fellow activist she may die in China if she is not allowed to leave the country. Liao Yiwu, an exiled writer living in Germany, said in an essay that Liu Xia told him she has lost hope of leaving China and said it feels “easier to die than live.” Liao released a recording of the phone call with Liu to highlight her plight. “Using death to defy could not be any simpler for me,” Liu said, according to the essay. 

Chinese authorities have kept Liu under close watch and mostly isolated since her husband won the Nobel Prize in 2010 for his activism. She remained under close watch even after her husband died from advanced liver cancer while he was still serving a prison sentence on subversion charges. Officials insist Liu is free to do as she pleases. —O.O.


Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

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