Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Tunisia: Always a sense of hope for a better future

My Facebook friends in Tunisia awoke on Sunday to vote in national legislative elections that will lead to a permanent Parliament being seated. In the almost four years of transition since initialing Arab Spring in this proud North Africa republic -- the smallest country in the Maghreb region -- "despite political assassinations, an emerging insurgency and economic discontent," in the words of The New York Times, there has always been a sense of hope for a better future for Tunisia. 

In my many conversations with my dear Tunisian friends, I have tried to express how democracy can be a beautiful thing, but that it can be a slow process, too. I am proud that several of my friends became involved in the democratic process. Some canvassed for various political parties vying for power such as the well-organized, moderate Islamist Ennahda Party and the secular liberal party Nida Tunis (Tunisia Calls), while others volunteered their time on Election Day working at polling places in cities such as Beja and Ben Arous. Also, a long-time friend of mine has been politically active with the watchdog group I Watch Tunisia, which strives to preserve the gains of the Arab Spring revolution through monitoring political activities for transparency while also educating the electorate. She summed up her feelings on her Facebook page in a single word -- "excited".

As my university-educated friends exercised their democratic right to vote -- and I know many of them expressed to me how proud they were to get out and vote on Sunday -- it gave each a chance to reflect on the state of their beloved country and, importantly, vote their conscience. Together, I know each wants to help make Tunisia a model for moderation, tolerance and democracy in their region of the world. Considering the plight of neighboring Libya and what has befell war-torn Arabic countries like Egypt and Syria, there is much pride in and hope for Tunisia today.

Just last week, Lonely Planet, the largest travel book publisher in the world, named Tunisia as its best value travel destination for 2015, noting that "as the tourism industry begins to recover since some travel warnings have been dropped, the North African destination offers beautiful beaches, as well as cheap and reliable transport. It's modern capital Tunis also reflects its long Ottoman history, and there are Roman remains dotted around the North to be explored."

From my side of the world, I feel the pride and share the hope of my dear Tunisian friends. Sunday was a first step in a journey that continues next month when presidential elections are held. By all accounts, Tunisia's parliamentary election day was free, fair and peaceful -- from Tunis to Mahdia, from La Marsa to Sfax, from Kasserine to Gabes. The returns point to an electorate that wants security and stability -- not to mention a strong economy and a focus on education that will lead to meaningful jobs for university graduates. Based on early election returns and exit polling, it appears that Nida Tunis has won 35 percent of the seats of the 217-member parliament, giving it the right to form a governing coalition. 

God bless my dear Tunisian friends on their historic Election Day. It's just a reminder there's always a sense of hope for a better future.

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