As the Tunisian elections are scheduled to take place next Sunday, political groups and parties are gearing up for a battle they described as "transformative moment" in the history of Tunisia. Political, civic and religious leaders all told me during in the capital Tunis in the past two days that Sunday parliamentary elections will usher a new political culture unseen in the Arab world before.
Ennahda which is the main political party expected to win a majority in this elections, is facing stiff resistance from the public and many political and civic organizations fearing its hegemony claiming that its attempts to Islamize the society.The Tunisian society prides itself of what they call "Tunisian exceptionalism" which is a blend of religious moderation, political openness and individual liberties.
Ennahda is particularly accused of having a hidden "Salfaist" agendas that it covertly seeks to make it a way of life in Tunisia.
Samir Diyalo a senior Ennahda leader and former government spokesman told me on Tuesday, however, that such charges are "utterly untrue" and that his group is willing to work with other parties in order to make this election a success for the entire people of Tunisia. Addressing the "Salafist " charges against his party, Diyalo said that "such charges are not even worthy of a response, because they are frivolous charges." He added that "Ennahda is committed to preserve the Tunisian way of life and to advance individual liberties and improve the economy."
Meanwhile, Saeeda Rashed, the leader of Tunisian Democratic Women Association told me that she is worried that an Ennahda win will make life very difficult for women in Tunisia." We have a problem with the current constitution, because it specifies that Islam is the religion of the state which would give the government the cover to deny women rights under this law."
She is also worried that Ennahda and other Islamist and Salafist groups will create an anti-women environment in the country if they win a big majority in the parliament. But for Diyalo, he said that those fears are unfounded. He told me when I interviewed him in Ennahda headquarters in Tunis last Tuesday that his party respects the rule of law, and that it does not seek to change the way of life of the Tunisian society.
Tunisians in general are more progressive and liberal in comparison to other Arab countries. The Tunisian civic society groups such as labor unions, women organizations, and trade syndicates have deep roots in the society, are well organized and very strong. Such well organized groups have forced the Ennahda government in 2012 and 2013 to step down after its spat of assassinations against political and activist leaders.
Bojumaa Remele one of the founders of Neda Tunis a political party expected to be one of the major winners in next week's elections said to me last Wednesday that his group would rather be in the opposition than share power with Ennahda. "We would rather work with groups with similar agendas and closer to our programs and thinking, and Ennahda is not one of those." He added.
Nedaa Tunis is a coalition of center right groups and some leaders from the old Ben Ali regime and is seeking to maintain the personal liberties of the Tunisian society and advance an economic program that will improve the Tunisian economy over a 10-year period. Neda Tunis' leader, the 88-year-old Al Baji Gayed El Sabsi, is a presidential candidate and according to polls and Tunisian analysts, he has a big chance to win the presidency.
Whatever party wins this elections, it will face a daunting task of assuring the electorate of its political program, fixing the economy and establish the Arab world's truly first democracy.
Ali Younes is a writer and journalist based in Washington D.C. He can be reached at email@example.com