A Professor’s Perspective
Tunisia and Egypt: Islamist Parties in their First Post-Authoritarian Elections
With Dr. John Entelis, Professor of Political Science and the Director of the Middle East Studies Program at Fordham University, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of North African Studies, Secretary of the American Institute for Maghrib Studies (AIMS), Editor of Westview’s series on “State, Culture, and Society in Arab North Africa
Tunisians, whose revolution was the first in the Arab Spring, had their elections on October 23. What was the outcome of those elections?
The elections were for a constituent assembly whose function is to write a new constitution, to select a government, and to determine the type of electoral laws that they will use. In other words, the constituent assembly is essentially creating a new political system for Tunisia. They’re giving themselves a year to do this. Over 100 political parties contested the elections, but only a handful had any chance of winning seats. A system of proportional representation was used, which means that a party had to reach a certain percentage level of votes to get representation. Most of the parties didn’t get enough votes to be represented in the assembly.
The overwhelming victor, winning almost 42% of the vote, was the Islamist party Ennahda headed by Rachid Ghannouchi. Of the 127 seats in the assembly, they won ninety. Then a combination of non-Islamist, secular parties won another forty to fifty seats. The remaining seats were divided among other parties, probably one seat per party for ten to fifteen other parties. While the Islamists didn’t get a majority of the seats, they’re the most influential party.
What is the significance of the Tunisian elections’ outcome, especially Ennahda’s success?
It did not turn out as disastrously as some secularists were fearful of nor did the Islamists achieve this overwhelming victory that would have been represented by a majority of the seats. This means that the parties all have to cooperate with each other and that a certain amount of compromise will emerge. Because there was so much anxiety of a more or less secular Tunisia over these decades, the Ennahda party has repeatedly indicated that it doesn’t intend to overturn any laws that gave women rights or that allowed alcohol to be sold—all these push-button issues that people are worried about. Now we have to wait and see how this all works out.
Among the impressive aspects of this election is that it had hundreds of monitors from all over the world, including many from the United States, which went and observed these elections firsthand. They overwhelmingly reported that this is one of the most fair, transparent elections that they have witnessed anywhere, including in the United States. So, check one for the Tunisians. This was a big plus.
The Egyptians had their revolution shortly after that of the Tunisians. Is there anything that the Egyptians can learn from Tunisia? Or, is Egypt a completely different scenario?
When asked that question, people are of two minds. The first is the point that you made, “Well, Egypt is very different from Tunisia.” One can go down the very obvious list of size, history, and ethnic and religious differences. The issue that’s often emphasized is the role of the military, which, in the case of Tunisia, was non-existent virtually both during the revolution, which is one of the reasons it succeeded, and especially during the elections, where the military was not in any way involved. This is not the case for Egypt, so that tends to be a real difference.
In Egypt, the military never stepped down and is sort of managing this whole process with its own interests in mind, unlike in the case of Tunisia where an independent commission was established to organize these elections. That’s not happening in Egypt because the military is orchestrating all of this.
Additionally, the Muslim Brotherhood is a much more powerful force and for many Egyptians, especially Christians, maybe even a threatening force. Ennahda in Tunisia wasn’t viewed that way.
In a way, the Tunisian example is a model of how elections in a post-authoritarian system should proceed. And the Egyptians are apparently not following it.
It seems to be that Ennahda was not deemed as threatening to Tunisians as the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties are to Egyptians. In fact, today I was reading an article in an Egyptian newspaper in which a secular group said that they rather have a military dictatorship than an Islamist, “Taliban-like” government. Do you think that is a founded fear in Egypt?
The same sentiment existed and exists in Tunisia, but the society is fundamentally divided between the minority, secular, western-eduated elite concentrated along the coast and the interior, less educated classes. You can imagine that secularists, especially the hardcore secular-orientated feminists, portrayed Islamists coming into power as the end of life as we know it. That didn’t happen and I think more people are willing to see how Ennahda will behave.
In Egypt, it’s not all that clear cut. Secularist Egyptians are a smaller percentage of the overall Egyptian population than the secularists in Tunisia. In that sense, the secularist Egyptians are really outnumbered. There is a more genuine fear that their rights will be taken away, but even Egyptian women don’t have as many rights as those in Tunisia, at least on paper. But there is a certain reality, which I’ve discussed in many of my presentations.
One of the things that the Tunisians demonstrated is in any and all cases where you have Arab authoritarian regimes being overthrown and some sort of democratic path follows, you can be guaranteed that, no matter which Arab country it is, an Islamic party will defeat all of the parties, maybe not get a majority, but at least a clear plurality. There are no real, viable alternatives or political movements representing the secular side because they’ve been oppressed or dispersed for decades under these dictators. So have the Islamists, but they’ve hung in there and they’ve gotten a lot of credit. They’ve died, they’ve been tortured, they’ve gone to jail and they didn’t give up, they didn’t go to France, they didn’t go to the United States, they didn’t throw in the towel. For that alone, Islamists get a lot of admiration and respect so that, when it comes time to vote, Islamists get a lot of support. That doesn’t mean that in the second round of elections Islamists will remain in power. But, in the first wave of post-authoritarian elections, it is guaranteed that an Islamist party will win.
NO LABELS INTERVIEW with the Alliance of Collegiate Editors
ACE (Columbia Political Review): The headline of the No Labels website reads: “We are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, united in the belief that we don’t have to give up our labels, merely put them aside to do what’s best for America”—can you explain what this means in practice and specifically how do you define what’s best for America? Doesn’t the answer to the question itself depend on ideological affiliation?
McKinnon: What’s best for America is progress; paralysis is not good for the country. We represent Republicans, Democrats, Independents and we represent people who believe that hyper-partisanship has reached a point in our politics where it’s paralyzing the system. We represent people who believe that we need a voice that rewards good behavior rather than punishes good behavior which is very much the way the system works now. We support civil dialogue because we believe that when you actually talk to the other side and sit down with the other side, it’s a lot harder to demonize the other side. When this happens, you actually get together and find solutions.
ACE: But again, this has a lot to do with the last question asked. What do you do with those who prefer inaction to the kind of action that they view as dangerous and harmful to the country?
NO LABELS: Well that’s fine. There are plenty of people representing those people, but the people who want progress haven’t had a representative, and that’s what we are doing.
ACE: What does No Labels identify as the root cause of the dogmatic partisanship that it seeks to combat?
NO LABELS: I think it’s a variety of factors, but there’s no question that anyone who is a representative in Congress will tell you that things are much worse today than they were 20 or 30 years ago. There are a lot of different opinions about what the root causes are but I would suggest that most people would say that it includes gerrymandered redistricting. We just had a poll that suggests districts themselves have been drawn in such a way to create more partisan districts than in the past. Additionally, the evolution of cable television, talk radio, and Internet media is contributing.
ACE: What are the concrete gains that No Labels has made since its inception and what concrete gains do No Labels hope to achieve?
No Labels: We are excited about the progress we’ve made. We’ve only been in existence for a couple of months, and we’ve already had a launch where we had 1000 people from 50 different states who are now representing all congressional districts, and monitoring the behavior of their elected representatives. One of our co-founders generated the idea for the bipartisan seating at the  State of the Union, which No Labels strongly endorsed and supported. Today in Washington, we had a press conference at the Capitol calling for everything to be on the table with everybody at the table as we address the budget issues. Additionally, MSNBC has agreed to sponsor a discussion dialogue between the Tea Party and MoveOn.
We have 1000 “generation” students across the country and we want to expand [this program] to at least 150 college campuses. One of the things we look to do next year is find six states with different primary races—three on the Democratic side and three on the Republican side—where we go in and bring 1000 people from outside the state into these states to support the No Labels approach. We’re an approach and an attitude. We’re not ideology. We just feel we are going to get better government if our leaders are working together and doing things in a bipartisan fashion. [MoveOn and the Tea Party] go into these offices and tell these legislators that “we will punish you if you cooperate with each other.” We want to be that counter weight that says “listen, there’s space to work with each other.”
ACE (Fordham Political Review): In that vein, can you talk about concrete steps that you are pursuing or hoping to see in terms of affecting elected officials? At the end of the day, they legislate and it’s up to them to be civil and work in a manner that is conducive to progress in your eyes. What do you want to see from our Congressmen, Senators, President and people in government?
No Labels: We want to see them demonstrate a willingness to work together, meet together, sponsor bills together. Among the concrete measures, we are monitoring the behavior of all the members, and we are throwing either what we call a “yellow flag” to punish bad behavior, or offering “high fives” to reward good behavior. For example, when Representative Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee) a week ago called members of the Republican Party “Nazis”, we threw a yellow flag, got our community behind it and notified the press. Later that afternoon, he apologized. I’m not suggesting that there is a direct cause and effect, but these are things that we feel are good and proper roles for No Labels. We monitor behavior and shout out examples of good and bad behavior when they happen.
One of the things we called for today was the Saxby Chambliss-Mark Warner gang of six that is working across the aisle in negotiations with all of our debt issues. We are supporting that and the members that work across the aisle. I was with the chief of staff of one of these Senators, and he showed me the emails that said, “Whatever you do, don’t be bipartisan.” So we’ll be opportunistic and, as these issues come up, we’ll be calling on No Labels members from around the country to support members in their specific districts on issues like this one. We have No Labels chapters all around the country that will be dealing with elected representatives on these issues.
ACE: Besides simply supporting good behavior, can you talk about some of the ways No Labels could affect elected representatives as they legislate in Washington, DC?
No Labels: We’ve been meeting regularly with chiefs of staff from the Senate and House to try to determine ways in which we can restore bipartisan lunches, retreats, and forums in which we can get more of the members together.
ACE (Penn Political Review): I’m going to read you a snippet from a comment that Rush Limbaugh made in December of 2010.
“What was No Labels’ label before they changed their names? Progressives, exactly right. When liberalism was rejected, liberals called themselves progressives, and now that progressives are being rejected, former liberals, former progressives, are now calling themselves the No Label group.”
How would you respond to people who claim that No Labels is a proxy for liberal ideology and movement?
No Labels: Well, I’m delighted that we got Rush Limbaugh’s attention. I [Mark McKinnon] am a Republican and a proud Republican, as are many of our members. But we are not about ideology, we are about working together. Rush Limbaugh doesn’t have any interest in people working together so I’m not surprised that he would attack us.
ACE (Berkeley Political Review): Has the Tucson Shooting affected your movement? Do you think that it takes unfortunate tragedies like this to make Americans realize the importance of bipartisanship, even if the Tucson shooting wasn’t a partisan attack?
No Labels: It raised the [bipartisanship] issue like a ripple effect and the president talked about this. The shooting wasn’t sparked by our problems with civil discourse, but created an outcome to initiate more dialogue about it.
ACE: Where do you see No Labels in 10 years?
No Labels: In 10 years we hope to be an effective voice for millions of Americans who think that civil discourse leads to greater problem solving in our country.
Conflict Management in Sub-Saharan Africa.
H.E. Mr. Lazarous Kapambwe, The Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Zambia to the United Nations. President of the UN Economic and Social Council.
What explains Zambia’s success in achieving substantial progress toward many of the Millennium Development Goals and yet, the country’s difficulty in ensuring environmental stability and mitigating the effects of climate change?
I wouldn’t say that we have made considerable progress toward achieving all the MDG’s. We are still in discussion for finding a successor to the Kyoto protocol. In Copenhagen (2009), it was not a very successful effort because a lot of the countries felt that the dispute between the industrial countries on the one hand and the emerging countries on the other, had been held hostage by the rest of the world. Therein, the industrial countries asked the emerging BRIC economies to contribute more towards curbing their carbon emissions, while these countries argued that on a per-capita basis, they pollute far less that the industrial countries. These countries are in a state of development in which they are using appropriate technology (to address these problems). To condemn them when the industrial countries came through the same process, especially when the industrial countries are not offering to pay for the difference between green technology and the current technology, is an unfair criticism. While that debate continues, industrial countries maintain that they won’t commit until the BRIC economies commit to these levels (of emissions). We felt at Copenhagen that what emerged was a temporary arrangement and hoped that in Mexico we would strike a much more comprehensive arrangement. This year we are going to South Africa. This is the time when the Kyoto Protocol is running out and we are hoping that we can build upon the framework set forth in Mexico to create a successor agreement. It is only when we have reached that stage, that we can say we’ve reached something significant. We still have an area in the debate which is not adequately addressed, that includes mitigation and adaptation measures. The package that has been offered for mitigation and adaptation has not been found to be attractive enough for them (developed world) to adopt and create technology or more environmentally-friendly developments. Two central problems are outstanding, one, the resources for adaptation and mitigation and two, the question of what is the appropriate technology for emerging economies (based on what they can afford). And who is going to pay if a small country is forced to adopt more expensive green technology? These are the challenges that remain within the climate change debate.
You mentioned that conflict can emerge from economic stagnation and oppressive governance (as evidenced in the current turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa). What kind of work is ECOSOC advocating in order to reconcile these two concepts, namely, that democratic governance and economic progress should go hand in hand?
Indeed, they should go hand in hand, but the balance at what point does the mix because right for each country is different. We have seen cases, particularly in Asia, where not so democratic governments have done very well in economic development; but we have also seen cases where democracy appeared to have contributed to better economic development. So for each country, it is unique in how you define democracy, we have a general definition of democracy, but the elements of democracy differ within each country. I think what is important are the modes of participation of the people. So, I would say that we should allow the people of each country to form these movements, as they have sufficient understanding of their needs and conditions. As long as you can give them adequate participation and the structure of participation, reform will be agreed upon in each country and legitimacy will be conferred by the people, when they feel that they’ve achieved the right mix of democracy on the one hand and economic development on the other.
With an eye towards the unrest in North Africa and the Middle East, do you think that the uprisings and prospects for civil war in Libya will impact economic and political development in the rest of the African Union?
Without a doubt, the UN and the African Union will be affected by what is happening in North Africa. At the very least, it forces us to sit an look at the structures we have and see where they are adequately dealing with all the different dimensions and different natures of conflicts that are rising (in the region). And so, we are likely to see greater discussion on how to reform the Security Council in order to make it more adaptive, and also how to reform the Peace and Security Council of the African Union, in order to make it more adaptive. We also will likely see greater commitment of resources to some of the programs that relate to youth and employment and education in these countries.
As in many other African nations, the Chinese remain an enormous economic presence in Zambia and their treatment of local workers has become an explosive political issue. How has the Zambian government worked to provide accountability for these Chinese firms, in an effort to ensure a more stable and fair economic partnership?
In Zambia, we’ve had a relationship with China for a very long time, and so for us, the presence of China is not new. What has increased is perhaps the volume of involvement and diversity of businesses on the ground. The conditions in the workplace are conditions that must be imposed by the government’s consent and must be effectively enforced. Every business will take advantage if the government’s policies aren’t strong enough. It doesn’t matter where this business comes from. The preoccupation of most businesses is to ensure that they keep their running costs to the very minimum and in those running costs you are talking about conditions that affect employment of workers, health, safety, etc. But it is to what extent do governments have laws that protect their people. Secondly, do they have good enforcement mechanisms in order to make sure that everyone that is not observing minimum standards, are then subject to censure provisions. I would say that the Chinese investment in Zambia, in that sense, is not very different from any other (country-specific) investment. But if you bring in this investment from a position of weakness, then chances are that investment is going to exploit you and take advantage of weaknesses in your domestic economy. I wouldn’t say it has on balance been a negative. It has added to the diversity of competitors and encouraged perhaps a better value investment from other actors.
A Year After the Earthquake: Haiti and Barriers to Emergency Response.
A Conversation with Sara Bordas Eddy, Emergency Specialist for UNICEF.
Prior to the earthquake, Haiti posed huge institutional and systemic challenges for organizations like UNICEF. What can be done, removed from emergency responses, to develop and reinforce structural interventions to prepare the country for future disasters?
The earthquake of Haiti, it was too major. You could have had better local response systems, better infrastructure; but still, the earthquake was just too devastating. So, in that sense, there was little we could do. The earthquake’s devastation really highlighted Haiti’s structural deficiencies. Comparing the earthquake of Chile and the earthquake of Haiti, Chile didn’t suffer nearly the same devastation as Haiti. So there was a big difference. We’re not going to make huge changes in a few months, in a country that needs 50 years of development. So there’s a certain limit of what can be done to avoid a disaster like this. But of course, many things can be done afterwards to make sure that if another happens again, its will not be so devastating. It goes back to infrastructure, the urban density of a city like Port-au-Prince, to try to get Haitians out of the most vulnerable areas, with a reasonable place to live. These disasters invariably occur where the most vulnerable populations live. Economic development is so tricky in a country like Haiti, where the level in which you start working is so low. Ultimately, it is not within UNICEF’s mandate to provide for these major systemic projects. If we were to improve the educational system, it would not have had a direct effect on preventing devastation to the city.
Has the failure to expand PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, affected your operation in Haiti?
For UNICEF, in an operation like Haiti, 70 percent of funds come from the private sector. We establish national committees in all countries; with the U.S. providing the lion’s share of funds. So, UNICEF has not been directly affected by cuts to PEPFAR, but it will directly affect Haiti. We count on President Clinton, as special envoy to Haiti, to do his job.
You mentioned chaos and coordination, after the earthquake, there was a massive influx of NGO’s and money; how does UNICEF coordinate with other organizations, so all that man power and capital can work together effectively?
Since the tsunami (in Indonesia), the international community learned firsthand the coordination problems on the ground. Humanitarian reform in 2005 worked to address these problems. All the main actors, decided that when an emergency hits, you automatically establish clusters of coordination groups before you hit the ground. UNICEF manages education, water sanitation and child protection. UNICEF will then coordinate, (on the ground), all those actors and organizations responsible for sanitation, education and child protection. In a situation like Haiti, how do you properly coordinate, amid the chaos, over 400 people and organizations? We cannot just tell OXFAM to go to a certain part of the city. There is a need for an automatic mechanism for coordination. We are reevaluating how these clusters work. This can help to create added value in a massive emergency like Haiti. When you have all types of levels of humanitarian emergency response teams and civilians without any prior experience, it falls on our organizations to help coordinate these actors. Crises are chaotic enough; we can have added value with such coordination.
What challenges can mobile technology in the field help overcome in disaster-stricken areas?
We didn’t utilize mobile technology as much as we could have in Haiti. UNICEF started using SMS in Haiti, yet the international development community is 5 years behind in using this technology in the field. The capacity is there, but not at the level at which it should be implemented. It’s there in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), but could really be used in Haiti to assist in the coordination challenges.
The influx of interest on the behalf of medical teams must be important. However, from your understanding, have the Haitian hospitals been receptive to foreign medical teams offering their aid?
Well, the local health system in Haiti was destroyed. It was one of our mistakes. We went on the ground (and) UNICEF doesn’t directly deal with these areas; yet international NGO’s doling out aid helped to collapse small local capacities, because all foreign aid was given for free. One major lessons from the crisis, in a chaotic situation, it was difficult to see that collapse occur, with more than 200,000 dead, you’re not thinking about destroying the local economy. This is also the problem with sending teams who don’t know the country. Not everybody knows Haiti, 20 percent on the ground may have known Haiti. It has also the fact that, and I’m not justifying it, you can say that the NGO’s who are giving the health services, because they’ve been working in Haiti, should know that (local medical capacities would be marginalized). But this is something that we know was wrong and will try to correct next time.
Sara Bordas Eddy works at the Humanitarian Field Support Section in the Office of Emergency Programmes in UNICEF, NY. Sara, as an Emergency Specialist, is responsible of monitoring political, social and humanitarian developments for West and Central Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean and CEE/CIS. She has worked as a consultant for UN/Department of Economic and Social Affairs, UNDP and UN/Development Operations Coordination Office.