More General Thoughts RE: Mali, AQIM, armed groups, etc.

Events in Mali are developing rapidly; for the moment, readers may refer to this blogger’s Twitter feed and those of others better informed (for example: Martin VoglMartin Plaut,Peter DorrieHannah ArmstrongTommy Miles, and Andrew Lebovich, and the articles here). Media reports have AQIM and MUJWA operating together with Ansar Eddine in Gao and Timbuktu; reports are mixed and the situation continues to be fluid. The MNLA appears to have been sidelined in some areas by Ansar Eddine, which is reported to have a heavy presence with members of AQIM in Timbuktu, and in others to be operating in proximity to MUJWA and/or Ansar Eddine. At present it is clear there are at least partial divisions in that Ansar Eddine may seek to expand beyond the Azawad, while the MNLA is more likely to attempt to hold territory in the north toward its goal of establishing a state there. Ansar Eddine (and the other Islamist/Salafi groups), though, look ready to try and extend their reach further south. In such a case they may find themselves at an even greater cross purposes than they did early on. The MNLA, highly media conscious, may attempt some kind of manoeuvre  to take some of the initiative from the Ansar Eddine and other armed factions. Ansar Eddine appears much stronger than previous reports suggested, and it may have come to an agreement or understanding with AQIM or MUJWA as a result of a common worldview or revenge politics directed toward the MNLA or a need to find ins at the local level in Timbuktu, for example. But there in particular if reports about AQIM having established itself there with the rebels moves beyond the group’s usually more low key and more pragmatic style; a prominent role there exposes it to targeting by the Mauritanian air force or others. This is especially true if reports about AQIM leadership figures showing up in Timbuktu or returning to Mali from neighbouring countries are true (including Yahya Abu al-Hammam and Belmokhtar; they are reported to have taken control of some military bases/installations in the area). The heavy hand in Timbuktu or Gao could also instigate pressure from ethnic militias in the area and with tribes. At the same time such figures may also help Ansar Eddine, whose leader Ag Ghali draws much of his support from Kidal, cement control in the area. From the distance and without more reliable reporting and definitive accounts from locals questions remain numerous and assumptions and contingencies must be reconsidered and interrogated vigorously.

General Thoughts on the Tuareg rebellion and AQIM

This post continues some of the questions raised in the post immediately preceding it, with respect to AQIM, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA), the Tuareg rebellion in Mali (and the subsequent coup) and other similar problems. The proliferation of arms and  armed groups in northern Mali since the fall of the Qadhafi regime in Libya has created opportunities and probably the necessity for AQIM to move men and activity into southern Libya, and potentially Nigeria. The Mali safe haven, for the time being, looks less hospitable to the group and conditions there mean that AQIM will likely seek out space and links in Libya to compensate for short-term losses in northern Mali and may evolve its leadership to seek a more deliberate and longer lasting presence in Libya, which is likely to become a priority for AQIM in the future. This post explores this possibility in context of recent evens in the region as it relates to armed groups in northern Mali and instability in southern Libya. It does not claim to provide any answers or satisfy all readers but mainly to explore possibilities emerging in a fluid environment.  Continue reading

More on Comparing Islamists & Gradualism

This blog does not generally or usually deal with Morocco. It is worth looking at James Asfa’s article on the Justice and Development Party’s recent performance in Morocco’s parliamentary elections. These were less momentous and exciting than the ones in Tunisia and Egypt given the tightly managed nature of the reform process there and the enduring strength of the monarchy; but they do fit into general trend in the region and point to interesting trends in the Maghreb. The piece can be looked at as a jumping point to think about some recent developments elsewhere in North Africa; in Algeria — where the regime’s efforts to lumber through this past year through managed reforms resemble Morocco’s to a certain degree — and in transitional Tunisia and Egypt, where change has obviously been more radical and where political polarization is more intense when it comes to religion than in Morocco. Asfa’s summary of the lessons the PJD has drawn from the Algerian experience are notable and worth reading. Indeed, as Paul Pillar writes, there is some danger in ‘sloppy thinking in failing to distinguish radical Islamists (who of course have represented the most salient and worrisome form of transnational extremist violence in recent years) from all other political Islamists.’ Asfa’s piece is worth reading in these terms. Continue reading

Lacher on the Social Bases of Activity in the Libyan Revolution

Wolfram Lacher has an interesting article (‘Families, Tribes and Cities in the Libyan Revolution,’ at the Middle East Policy Council) on the role of families and tribes in the Libyan revolution, during the struggle against Qadhafi and after. Long and very interesting portions are posted below. Do read the whole thing.  Continue reading

Party Hopping Again

DZCalling’s comment on the previous post on Abdallah Djaballah pointed to the ongoing power struggles and divisions in the FLN, Algeria’s former single party until 1989. It brought these points to mind which would have been a comment on that post but were not strictly related to the original point and have thus been placed here. The reference to the FLN brought to mind two things primarily: (1) generational tensions and conflicts in institutions of the political establishment; and (2) attitudes toward political change and violence as they related to some of the experiences (especially the civil war) that created those generational rifts. These are general thoughts.  Continue reading

More North African Readings

A new Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik report on the Tunisian elections (‘Tunesien: Einmal mehr Vorreiter‘ (‘Tunisia: Once Again a Pioneer’), SWP-Comments 2011, No. 49, November 2011 by Isabelle Werenfels; in German) offers positive comments on Tunisia’s election results and notes some of the economic and structural problems facing the country. It argues for European support for the country’s continued democratization; and it represents a nice break from some of the (widespread) writing in French about the Islamist element. It is worth noting that optimism is easily dashed — even if nowadays Tunisia looks quite good compared to all of its neighbors and Egypt (where transitional problems are being dealt with differently). Certainly worth reading. Continue reading

Two more articles to read

Another Jeune Afrique article on happenings in northern Mali, specifically the attitude of many Malian Arabs (Moors) toward the government in Bamako in light of recent events in Gao and Kidal on the Tuareg file. An interesting read.

Also, see this fine piece by Jihadology‘s Aaron Zelin on en-Nahdah’s recent rhetoric and its relationships with secular parties:

[. . . ] Ennahda has been in talks over the past several weeks with two secular parties, Congress for the Republic and Ettakatol, to form a coalition government for the new Constituent Assembly. As one can see from the above comments by Ettakatol, the two secular parties will no doubt play a productive role and provide a check on any potential Ennahda overreach.

One should be cognizant, though, that the transition will not be perfect. Moreover, with every potential accommodation Ennahda makes now that they are in power, it could erode potential grassroots support. More radical youth elements may believe that after years of suffering under the yoke of former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali it is time to finally implement the oft-quoted phrase “al-Islam huwa al-Hal”; or “Islam is the Solution.” By not living up to these words one could foresee a scenario where some support is shifted to the less mainstream Salafi movement, fomenting a potential culture war in Tunisia in the medium future.

Ennahda’s pledge to respect women’s rights and not regulate social issues, such as wearing a bikini at the beach or the sale of alcohol, could become contentious issues in future elections that could pull Ennahda further to the right. Even if they do not, as more time passes since the fall of the Ben Ali regime and there are more freedoms and openness in Tunisian society, the contestation of the role of religion, its meaning, and interpretation will become a heated debate. In the near-term, though, with Ghannouchi stewarding Ennahda through the transition, such potential drift or confrontation is less likely.

Ennahda’s transition from banned opposition party to a leading voice of reform for civic Islamism is still playing out. There will be ups and downs over the next year, but its political discipline and maturity will rise over time. If there is one political party in the Middle East and North Africa that can navigate the tough challenge ahead on debating the contentious issue of the role of religion in society, Tunisia’s Ennahda party is best situated for the task. Although talk of the Caliphate is a head-turning event for many in Tunisia and in the West, since last January, Ennahda’s actual actions to date should be speaking louder than some of their ill-conceived words.

Another Opinion

A reader, by email, on the situation in northern Mali:

Just read your blog post on the Sahel. I think the situation is a lot more critical than the Economist article suggests – particularly in Mali. Probably somewhere around 1000 – 1500 fighters returned from Libya, a significant proportion of them with weaponry and pick-ups. The majority of them appear to have been in the Libyan army for a while, another group was associated with Bahanga’s rebellion, and a third group was recruited spontaneously during February and March, although part of that recruitment also appears to have taken place through Bahanga’s networks. Of course, there are different factions among them, including Imghad who may be easier to integrate into the army through El Hadj Gamou’s offices. But a significant minority among the returnees come from the Ifoghas families that led the rebellion of 2006-09. Idnan and Chamanamas have also returned, and have been joined by deserters from the Malian army. In sum, it is quite possible that a new Tuareg rebellion is imminent; in fact, it may have already begun.

This blogger has no way of verifying the numbers here and has no firm assessment as yet.

Jeune Afrique reports that Nigerien forces ‘intercepted a large column’ of Tuaregs who had faught with Qadhafi and who were affiliated with Ibrahim Ag Bahanga before his death earlier this year. The article reports the men were hoping to join others in Mali. The deaths include thirteen Tuaregs and one from the Nigerien Army. The Nigeriens reportedly found RPGs and machine guns in their vehicles. It also reports the Nigeriens were alerted to the convoy by US satellite intelligence.

UPDATE: Tommy Miles, another well informed reader comments:

I think we should be careful here. Especially as I AM NOT in Mali, I’m very hesitant at drawing conclusions. Sources within northern Mali on all the points above are contradictory, and both Hama Ag SidiAhmed & nationalists in the south are spinning a lot of stuff that appears untrue. I also would not paint direct lines between tewsiten rebel groups/leaders (let alone proclivity to fight Bamako).

Recent statements from the Kidal big men like Alghabass ag Intallah, scion of the Ifoghas’ ruling Kel Afella, are pretty cagey. These guys, regardless of tewsit or tribe, are hip deep in Malian power politics, and don’t seem like they’re sending their cousins out to shoot up the joint. See here.

So just one of several possible points. Several reports claim only a small portion of the Libya returnees broke away to camp with Ag Bahanga’s Chamanamas fraction (to be clear a portion — one of something like 52 — of a not large tribal group) near Tin Zawatten. Most are in cantonment, and interviews suggest they’re not there to fight. They’re tired, hungry, broke, and scared. It was also reported that many of the soldiers, while tied by family to their officers who were born in Mali, have never left Libya, and speak only Arabic, neither French or Tamashaq.

Previous rebellions have been funded, if not by neighboring governments, then by rich sympathizers in neighboring countries. There will not be much cash coming from Libya or Libyans to support this. These folks will likely be destabilizing in many, potentially violent ways, but please be aware that there is a concerted effort being made in some quarters to sell this coming rebellion to outsiders. That alone makes me skeptical, even as it convinces me there is a group — small and marginalized and angry because of their marginalization from northern networks — who are planning an uprising.

Exceptions, Agency, Structure

Richard Phelps argues that Algeria has not seen a popular uprising this year on broad structural lines (‘An Algerian Exception?‘ CMEC Blog): ‘the Algerian regime does not have an identifiable leader with whom political power truly lies’.

In Algeria, the incumbent president Abdulaziz Bouteflika is not the ultimate repository of power in the country. Instead, the military and security forces are and always have been. Indeed, the generals have consistently worked to limit his authority and power, and as a result people know that protesting against his rule may uproot him but will not uproot a more shadowy architecture behind him. Municipal elections in 1990 and parliamentary elections in 1991 offered the Algerian people the prospect for a major overhaul, when they voted in the Islamist party the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) across the board, ejecting the long-incumbent National Liberation Front (FLN).  But the military stepped in and took over, banned the FIS, and years of brutal civil war ensued after many took part in an uprising against the regime. The trauma of this experience formally confirmed to Algerians what many had always known – that it is the military that is in charge, not the politicians – and it instructed the regime that popular dissent can be successfully crushed through overwhelming and brutal force.  Thus the overwhelming security presence at the demonstrations seen to date.

For all its dissimilarities with Algeria, Lebanon is also an Arab republic with a long history of brutal political violence, and it too has been relatively unaffected by the Arab spring. In neither case is there a single identifiable leader in charge: one hears not of ‘Bouteflika’s Algeria’ as one does of ‘Asad’s Syria’, ‘Gaddafi’s Libya’, or ‘Mubarak’s Egypt’. In both cases – Algeria and Lebanon – there is widespread recognition that power does not lie with Presidents and prime ministers. In Lebanon, power is devolved along sectarian lines rather than concentrated in central government. There would therefore, be little sense in protesting against the rule of the government or a particular leader’s regime, since ultimate power does not lie with them. Continue reading

Short Algeria Reading List

Here’s a PDF of the list of books your blogger usually gives to people when they email and ask for books about Algeria. This list only includes books and articles in English or translated into English (except for Camile Tawil’s book on the civil war which is worth seeking out if readers know a bit of Arabic); It is a quick thing for easy use by English speakers. The list also has some recent additions which are quite delicious. The division is somewhat arbitrary but readers can manage. It’s rather short, too. A longer, more academic bibliography (with more articles and papers and including things in French and Arabic and so on) would be worth the effort at some point. An update will be forthcoming. A list on Mauritania is presently in the works. The list is also on the TMND Scribd. Of course suggestions/recommendations for additions are welcome and encouraged.

N.B.: Refer to the Scribd page for the most up to date version of the list, not the PDF file linked in this post as the Scribd page is updated with far greater ease.

A friend once emailed asking for recent books on Kabylia. Do readers have suggestions?

Things written recently

Some superficial thoughts about goings on in the region in general based on some recent reports and articles.

This week’s issue of The Economist has two interesting articles: one on the Sahel countries (minus Mauritania and mostly interested in Tuaregs) and the aftermath of recent events in Libya and another optimistic piece on Libya’s relations with the NTC’s wartime allies (Qatar, it reports is the ‘worst offender’ in meddling in the country’s internal politics; many Tunisians angry about an-Nahdah say the same).

The big picture on Chad is also interesting: ICG put out a good report on Chad a few weeks ago, ‘Africa without Qaddafi: The Case of Chad‘. This is especially worth reading after looking at ICG’s March 2010 report on Libyan-Chad relations (‘Beyond Political Influence‘). Continue reading

Translation: ‘In the Arab Maghreb’

Badr Shakir al-Sayyab

Here is a brutish rendering of an excerpt from Badr Shakir al-Sayyab’s poem ‘In the Arab Maghreb‘. The narrator is an Algerian independence fighter, looking at a headstone with him name written on it. It was indented as an anti-colonial version of ‘The Waste Land’. ‘Abraha’ is a reference to the Ethiopian king who led the attack against the Ka’abah and who, the story goes, was defeated through divine intervention. In the poem the narrator recalls numerous episodes from history, the fight with the Ethiopians, the Battle of Dhu Qar, ‘Abd el-Krim’s struggle in the Rif Mountains and so on, which are signs of hope as he reflects on his own situation; this passage comes as he links himself and his struggle to his ancestors’ struggles in the past. The poem is dedicated to Messali Hadj, founder of the Étoile Nord-Africaine (the first Algerian independence movement), Parti du Peuple Algérien and the Mouvement pour le Triomphe des Libertés Démocratiques. Continue reading

Hugh Roberts on Libya

This blog has written a little bit on some of the strange reactions and commentary about various countries’ responses to the Libya crisis (mainly Algeria because it fits into the overall focus of this blog, but also other countries). Your blogger does not have especially strong feelings about the Libya intervention as such; the way the Libyan uprising was reported and covered and talked about is more interesting and perhaps more disturbing (and a subject for some other piece of writing, somewhere else). Hugh Roberts, whose work on Algeria is of the highest quality in general and who was with the International Crisis Group until recently, has a long article in the London Review of Books explaining his skepticism of the Libya intervention, its process and the inconsistencies in media reporting and various government arguments in favor of the UN-sponsored NATO effort there. It is a respectable series of arguments and deserves serious consideration. Going beyond the usual complains about western imperialism and oil politics, Roberts argues that the intervention ‘tarnished every one of the principles the war party invoked to justify it. It occasioned the deaths of thousands of civilians, debased the idea of democracy, debased the idea of law and passed off a counterfeit revolution as the real thing.’ There many who argued against the intervention and came off as callus, wooly headed or out of touch (and there were also a great many who favored the intervention who came off as obtuse, hypocritical, out of touch and all that). Roberts comes at the issue a bit differently and his article reflects a genuine concern and consideration for political outcomes in Libya that has not been so clearly articulated by other westerners opposed to the intervention. He cannot be called impartial, as his organization (at the time), ICG, was involved in attempting to influence the course of events in Libya and so he comes with his own baggage, as he puts plainly in the piece. This background comes through in the tone and the diction of the piece but less strongly than it might if written by another analyst; readers should look through his excellent book on Algeria, The Battle Field, made up of vigorously analytical essays on that country’s civil war which are of high quality. In other words, it is hard to say that Roberts is overcome with rage or that he is writing in the interest of some obscure vested interest (aside from his own) or with ill intentions here.

He also argues that the arguments and charges made by supporters of the intervention ‘involved mystifications’ and hyperbole. There are parts of the article which this blogger finds strongly agreeable, especially on the Manichaeism which characterized so much media coverage of the war (‘good’ rebells and ‘bad’ Qadhafites, the irresponsible rhetoric on ‘black’ or ‘African’ mercenaries, the way non-western and non-Gulf positions on Libya were ‘dismissed with scorn by Western governments and press’) and in popular characterizations of the Qadhafite regime as especially different from those of the Gulf states and how easily many people bought into the regime’s public image (although Roberts is perhaps too keen on similarities between the Gulf countries and the Jamahiriyya as the latter was rather more arbitrary and capricious in its repression). He provides a well informed and generally clear-eyed analysis of the way the intervention unfolded in public. He is too light on Qadhafi’s Africa policy (he does not mention, for example, Libya’s impact on west Africa and conflicts there) but quite on the mark when he writes it ‘meant little to the many Libyans who wanted Libya to approximate to Dubai, or, worse, stirred virulent resentment against the regime and black Africans alike.’ The overt hatred expressed toward black people and dark skinned Libyans during the war does not receive enough attention from journalists. Concern about the welfare of migrants and refugees victimized by the war and accusations of being ‘mercenaries’ was treated with cynicism and indifference in western media, especially at the start of the conflict and atrocities against them are underreported (one can find equivocations and balancing, Well they really could be mercenaries!). But one must ask: What did Qadhafi’s regime itself have to do with the oppression and mistreatment of black people in Libya, which is well known and was widespread among average people and the Libyan security forces and police, before the war? If Qadhafi was such a sincere pan-Africanist, why was such bigotry tolerated before? The piece is quite good on media coverage of Qadhafite versus rebel atrocities and NTC misinformation, which has become a something in between a running joke and an irritation among some reporters. Roberts is generally correct when he writes: ‘The standards of proof underpinning Western judgments of Gaddafi’s Libya have not been high.’ This is especially true in popular media and even (if not especially at times) on Al Jazeera and other places praised for their coverage of the war; it was perhaps most obvious during the recent war. And then there is the problem of the Libyan Imazighen (Berbers): Roberts is too brief on them and their struggles (he is also quite correct in the way he discusses the Qadhafite view of Libyan society and enforced homogeneity on ‘legitimate’ forms of Libyan identity and how this has been carried over in rebel discourse, see here for an example). There was not only a problem of ‘recognition'; there was a concerted effort to erase them from public vocabulary, to do away with their language and to discourage its preservation; people were beaten and threatened and tortured to that end. Whether one agrees with Roberts’s view of the intervention or not (or with some of the assertions made about the Qadhafite regime), his account is worth reading and reflecting on. Readers can make their minds up about it for themselves.

Studies VIII: ‘Ethics’ & Performance

The translation below is an excerpt from the Tunisian Communist Workers Party pamphlet ‘On Secularism,’ (by Hamma Hammami) other sections of which has been translated elsewhere on this blog. This excerpt was posted on the PCOT’s website on 27 October, 2011. It is interesting that this was posted so close to the election; it appears to reinforce convictions in the rightness of the leftist perspective as non-communist forces gained on the party, especially in the Islamist tendency (who are mentioned explicitly; in PCOT literature الظلاميون ‘obscurantists’ is often a euphemism for Islamists). The re-publication of this excerpt on the site can be seen as a part of the party’s reaction to the electoral environment in general; communist tendencies in most Arab countries today are non-conformist in that they are the opposite of dominant opposition and political forces which are accommodating of political Islam and religious views (which are vastly more popular), the market liberal economic consensus (especially among non-Islamist factions) and the predominant view of religion in society which is usually conservative and comfortable with having religion used as a core pillar of collective (including national) identity. It focuses on the changing nature of socially acceptable behavior and political ideas. This translation was done quickly and without a dictionary and so edits will likely be made. Continue reading

The Public Portrait of a Gerontocrat

It is often said that the Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is aging and suffering from a wide range of sicknesses. Algerians mock him as a Micky Mouse president; he is short and old and there are many videos and images on the Internet of his face pasted to a dancing baby or cartoon character. Some of his public comments have been put into satirical hip hop songs or techno jams. One is not surprised given the nature of Algerian humor and his popularity among young people (which is generally low). How has Bouteflika’s public persona as reflected in his speeches and rhetoric changed over the twelve years he has been in power? What is he like in public?

His speeches can have a goofy and demagogic feeling to them which can be amusing. Bouteflika used to complement his tiny voice with a wide range of gestures and fist pounding, which he occasionally uses nowadays. As a politician, Bouteflika was a very fine public speaker, particularly when compared to his predecessors with Colonel Chadhli Bendjedid being a good example of one of the sadder public speakers in the Maghreb (Bouteflika is not as eloquent as Morocco’s Hassan II, though, and their styles were/are drastically different for rather different audiences. He is easier to listen to in Arabic than General Gaid-Salah who sounds rather gruff and unpleasant even for a military man, no offense to military men.) He sometimes makes jokes for the camera or puts on an energetic and angry tone, waving his finger in the air, seeming to jump up and down in his seat if giving a speech form behind a desk rather than a podium.

After a decade in power and the deterioration of his health (kidney troubles, ulcers and so on) Bouteflika is far less exciting though he still makes a fair amount of public appearances for someone in his condition. Bouteflika has had a long political career. It has been generally consistent over time though there are marked changes in the last few years and these are the result of natural causes rather than rhetorical strategy per se). He does not bang his fist as much these days and he is not capable on most days it seems of raising or inflecting his voice to the extent he did even three or four years ago. Readers can judge this for themselves: compare his speech on reform from earlier this year to his early campaign speeches or the speeches he made in his earliest ones as president. Or even compare his speeches from 2009 to those from this past year. He has aged (he is 74) though he still seems to favor dark three-piece suits almost year round and over time looks like he has taken to less and less busy ties (he always favored darker, more modest colors and even more so nowadays it seems). On occasion one will see Bouteflika in public wearing traditional clothes of whatever region he is visiting, a bournous here a djabellah there and so on. He dresses like an old man and has always embraced a public presentation that made him look grandfatherly or avuncular and he does not attempt to look younger than he is by dying his hair (like Mubarak and Ben Ali did for example) or the like. He embraces his age linking it to his revolutionary credentials and his association with Houari Boumediene. Of Algeria’s presidents, Bouteflika has built the closest thing to a personality cult without quite getting there in the proper sense (as seen here) and nothing quite on the order of the Moroccan monarchy or the As’ad or Mubarak or Qadhafite sort (Algerians react poorly to such things) and in the Arab context is not especially exceptional in this way.

Below are eleven videos. Most have years with them but some do not and readers are welcome to give their estimates or clarifications. All are in Arabic and/or French, some include remarks in Kabyle (by people who are not Bouteflika). No translations but non-Arabophone and Francophone readers will be able to make observations based on body language and inflection and tone and so on. Some are long and one can get a sense of them by clicking through the video. Your blogger realizes that this is a lot of Bouteflika and it is not meant as an endorsement but these are worth looking through given his health issues and that he has been in power for twelve years and the regime he heads up has thus far withstood the Arab uprisings. What is this very short man like in public? See for yourself.  Continue reading

El-Amrani & Lindsay on Tunisia

Issandr El-Amrani and Ursula Lindsay have an excellent and exciting overview of the Tunisian elections at MERIP. The pair describe the performance and background of Nahdah, the major secular parties and the overall atmospherics of the poll and campaign. Your blogger has stated on this blog and elsewhere that while the Islamist tendency is important in Tunisia and elsewhere, it is worthwhile to pay attention to political trends outside that file. Even though an-Nahdah won a plurality of seats in the constituent assembly, it did not win a majority and the parties which won the rest are still important: an-Nahdah will not be able to act unilaterally and will before into coalitions and politics with other, mainly secular, parties as many observers have noted. El-Amrani and Lindsay do a terrific job at describing the main secular tendencies in the constituent assembly and why they performed the way they did and their attitudes and relationships with an-Nahdah. The conclusion:

The first post-Ben Ali government resulting from an election — Tunisia’s first free and fair one, at that — is likely to be composed of an Ennahda-CPR-Ettakatol alliance. With over 62 percent of seats in the constituent assembly, this coalition should be stable enough to provide a centrist consensus for both the constitution and government policy. Yet, even within this alliance, there are significant divergences over how to proceed with regard to the constitution and the mechanisms by which it will be decided, what kind of policies the interim government should (or has the legitimacy to) carry out, as well as negotiations over the government’s formation (with many secularists, for instance, weary of Ennahda’s interest in the education portfolio). The question of who will be Tunisia’s next president and whether the political system will be parliamentary (as Ennahda prefers) or semi-presidential (as CPR, Ettakatol and most other parties advocate) will also loom large over the next year. Reconciling these differences will not be easy, but at least, for the first time in its post-independence history, Tunisia has genuine politics.

They do not discuss the Tunisian Communist Workers Party (PCOT), which won just two seats, leaving market space open for others to cover that small party’s strategy and politics which are quite interesting if obscure (in fact, it seems most roundups omit the party because it won only two seats, which in some instances reflects writers’ ideological biases/ignorance (no names named) or, as is likely in this case, demands fo space and format and a careful consideration of the major power centers and what is most urgent for the reader; this blog has covered them as a matter of principle). Ettajdid (former communists; El-Amrani has written on some of their tendencies before) and PDM (mentioned in the piece) also deserve attention, having won seats and representing the left. Again, this blogger believe it is important to fill in the whole picture when it comes to the Arab countries that have seen uprisings. There are many more forces at work than just Islamist sects, as El-Amrani and Lindsay show here and others struggle to recognize.