Months after launching the revolution that sparked the Arab Spring, Tunisians are finally getting a shot at democracy in Sunday's vote
Supporters of Tunisia's PDP hold up Tunisian flags during an election campaign meeting in Tunis / Reuters
This Sunday, October 23, Tunisians will go to the polls to elect a 217 person constituent assembly that will be tasked with writing a new constitution for the country within a year. Just as Tunisia led the Arab world in overthrowing its dictator, it continues to lead in moving toward a new political system. While Tunisians feel justifiably proud in their political progress, there is nevertheless considerable tension and pessimism in the lead-up to this symbolic election.
On one level, people simply feel overwhelmed by the process. With some hundred political parties and 1500 electoral lists competing for attention, voters don't know who to vote for and feel unsure of the issues. There remains a deep distrust of government. Polls show that at this late stage, half the voters are still undecided.
Recent protests also reveal the tensions between secularists and Islamists that have in many ways dominated the campaign season. Last weekend, demonstrators gathered in the town of Sousse to protest a decision by the Ministry of Education to ban students from wearing the face-covering niqab. The next day in Tunis, protesters marched on the Nessma Television offices in outrage against the showing of the animated film Persepolis, the story of a young girl coming of age against the backdrop of Iran's Islamic revolution. The film insulted Muslims across the political spectrum, not only because it features a depiction of God, but also because it portrays the main character railing against God during a crisis of faith. The film aired previously in 2007 (when it also drew attacks from Islamists), but this time it was dubbed in Arabic instead of French, and thus was watched in circles beyond the educated elite. Only one well-known party supported the screening of the film on the basis of free speech.
Recent polls show that while a coalition of center-left parties could emerge from the elections with a sizeable share of the vote, there is also strong support (between 20 and 25 percent) for the main Islamist party Al Nahda led by Rachid Ghannouchi. He has promised that his party will preserve religious freedom, and the rights of women and minorities. However, liberals in Tunisia and their supporters abroad warn that Ghannouchi is playing a double game. They contend that his "liberal makeover" is simply a tactic to appeal to moderates and gain votes. The party's apparent flip-flopping on sensitive issues, like whether they will push for making polygamy legal, underscores general uncertainty about their intentions.
Headlines in the Tunisian press reveal a great deal of concern about security at voting stations and about the legitimacy of the tabulation of results. Ghannouchi told Al Jazeera that his party was prepared to "overthrow ten governments" if the results of the election are manipulated. Voter registration efforts have been haphazard, and currently only half of potential voters are even registered. Campaigning, which started October 1, has been vigorous as the many political parties attempt to educate and then persuade voters to support their platforms. Complicating this effort is a ban on advertising that the major liberal party, the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), claims is playing into Islamist hands as they are able to disseminate their messages in mosques and through their strong social networks.
While the Islamic character of Tunisian society will be more visible in the new constituent assembly, the country's long experience as a secular state will not disappear overnight. The appropriate role of religion in society and law will continue to be contested, and will undoubtedly emerge as a divisive issue in the writing of the new constitution. But that's politics.
This article originally appeared at CFR.org, an Atlantic partner site.
Isobel Coleman is the Senior Fellow and Director of the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative and Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program at Council on Foreign Relations. She writes at "Democracy in Development."
Some fans are complaining that Zack Snyder’s envisioning of the Man of Steel is too grim—but it’s less a departure than a return to the superhero’s roots.
Since the official teaser trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice debuted online in April, fans and critics alike have been discussing the kind of Superman Zack Snyder is going to depict in his Man of Steel sequel. The controversy stems from Snyder’s decision to cast Superman as a brooding, Dark Knight-like character, who cares more about beating up bad guys than saving people. The casting split has proved divisive among Superman fans: Some love the new incarnation, citing him as an edgier, more realistic version of the character.
But Snyder’s is a different Superman than the one fans grew up with, and many have no problem expressing their outrage over it. Even Mark Waid, the author of Superman: Birthright (one of the comics the original film is based on), voiced his concern about Man of Steel’s turn toward bleakness when it came out in 2013:
New research confirms what they say about nice guys.
Smile at the customer. Bake cookies for your colleagues. Sing your subordinates’ praises. Share credit. Listen. Empathize. Don’t drive the last dollar out of a deal. Leave the last doughnut for someone else.
Sneer at the customer. Keep your colleagues on edge. Claim credit. Speak first. Put your feet on the table. Withhold approval. Instill fear. Interrupt. Ask for more. And by all means, take that last doughnut. You deserve it.
Follow one of those paths, the success literature tells us, and you’ll go far. Follow the other, and you’ll die powerless and broke. The only question is, which is which?
Of all the issues that preoccupy the modern mind—Nature or nurture? Is there life in outer space? Why can’t America field a decent soccer team?—it’s hard to think of one that has attracted so much water-cooler philosophizing yet so little scientific inquiry. Does it pay to be nice? Or is there an advantage to being a jerk?
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
19 Kids and Counting built its reputation on preaching family values, but the mass-media platforms that made the family famous might also be their undoing.
On Thursday, news broke that Josh Duggar, the oldest son of the Duggar family's 19 children, had, as a teenager, allegedly molested five underage girls. Four of them, allegedly, were his sisters.
The information came to light because, in 2006—two years before 17 Kids and Counting first aired on TLC, and thus two years before the Duggars became reality-TV celebrities—the family recorded an appearance on TheOprah Winfrey Show. Before the taping, an anonymous source sent an email to Harpo warning the production company Josh’s alleged molestation. Harpo forwarded the email to authorities, triggering a police investigation (the Oprah appearance never aired). The news was reported this week by In Touch Weekly—after the magazine filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see the police report on the case—and then confirmed by the Duggars in a statement posted on Facebook.
In an interview, the U.S. president ties his legacy to a pact with Tehran, argues ISIS is not winning, warns Saudi Arabia not to pursue a nuclear-weapons program, and anguishes about Israel.
On Tuesday afternoon, as President Obama was bringing an occasionally contentious but often illuminating hour-long conversation about the Middle East to an end, I brought up a persistent worry. “A majority of American Jews want to support the Iran deal,” I said, “but a lot of people are anxiety-ridden about this, as am I.” Like many Jews—and also, by the way, many non-Jews—I believe that it is prudent to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of anti-Semitic regimes. Obama, who earlier in the discussion had explicitly labeled the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, an anti-Semite, responded with an argument I had not heard him make before.
“Look, 20 years from now, I’m still going to be around, God willing. If Iran has a nuclear weapon, it’s my name on this,” he said, referring to the apparently almost-finished nuclear agreement between Iran and a group of world powers led by the United States. “I think it’s fair to say that in addition to our profound national-security interests, I have a personal interest in locking this down.”
Advocates say that a guaranteed basic income can lead to more creative, fulfilling work. The question is how to fund it.
Scott Santens has been thinking a lot about fish lately. Specifically, he’s been reflecting on the aphorism, “If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he eats for life.” What Santens wants to know is this: “If you build a robot to fish, do all men starve, or do all men eat?”
Santens is 37 years old, and he’s a leader in the basic income movement—a worldwide network of thousands of advocates (26,000 on Reddit alone) who believe that governments should provide every citizen with a monthly stipend big enough to cover life’s basic necessities. The idea of a basic income has been around for decades, and it once drew support from leaders as different as Martin Luther King Jr. and Richard Nixon. But rather than waiting for governments to act, Santens has started crowdfunding his own basic income of $1,000 per month. He’s nearly halfway to his his goal.
Why agriculture may someday take place in towers, not fields
A couple of Octobers ago, I found myself standing on a 5,000-acre cotton crop in the outskirts of Lubbock, Texas, shoulder-to-shoulder with a third-generation cotton farmer. He swept his arm across the flat, brown horizon of his field, which was at that moment being plowed by an industrial-sized picker—a toothy machine as tall as a house and operated by one man. The picker’s yields were being dropped into a giant pod to be delivered late that night to the local gin. And far beneath our feet, the Ogallala aquifer dwindled away at its frighteningly swift pace. When asked about this, the farmer spoke of reverse osmosis—the process of desalinating water—which he seemed to put his faith in, and which kept him unafraid of famine and permanent drought.
No police officers will serve time for the November 2012 shooting death of two unarmed black civilians.
On November 29, 2012, police officers and witnesses heard what appeared to be gunshots coming from a car driving near a police station in Cleveland. A high-speed car chase ensued, drawing in over 100 officers on duty, before the police managed to corner the car. Thirteen police officers then fired 137 rounds of ammunition at the vehicle, whose occupants Cleveland police suspected were armed. After the other officers stopped firing, 31-year-old Michael Brelo climbed on top of the hood of the suspect’s car and fired 15 more rounds at close range. When the shooting stopped, the car’s occupants, 43-year-old Timothy Russell and 30-year-old Malissa Williams, were dead. Both were unarmed. The “gunshot” witnesses heard turned out to be a backfiring car.
Sean Wilentz discusses his latest book, "Bob Dylan in America," which describes the singer's influence on our nation's culture
Nearly half a century after he released his first album, Bob Dylan continues to release new albums (including, last year, a compilation of Christmas songs) and tour the country playing concerts. Sean Wilentz, an American history professor at Princeton University and "historian-in-residence" at BobDylan.com, traces Dylan's influence on American culture in his new book, Bob Dylan in America. Here, he discusses how Dylan shaped his generation—and whether there's a similar artist in today's music scene.
The book is called Bob Dylan in America. What's Dylan's place in our nation's cultural history history?
He's the most important songwriter of the last 50 years, in a culture in which songwriting has always been a major force, a major component.