Islamists poised for victory in Tunisia election

In a scene likely to be repeated in several Arab countries partaking in the "Arab Spring," so-called "moderate" Islamists in Tunisia are set to win the largest share of votes in the country's first free elections.


The leader of an Islamist party predicted to win the biggest share of the vote was heckled outside a polling station by people shouting "terrorist" -- highlighting tensions between Islamists and secularists that are also being felt in other countries touched by the Arab Spring.

Mohamed Bouazizi's self-immolation, prompted by his despair at poverty and government repression, provoked mass protests which forced President Zine al-Abidine to flee Tunisia. This in turn inspired revolts in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria.

Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the moderately Islamist Ennahda party, took his place in the queue outside a polling station in the El Menzah 6 district of the capital.

"This is an historic day," he said, accompanied by his wife and daughter, who were both wearing hijabs, or Islamic headscarves. "Tunisia was born today. The Arab Spring was born today."

But as he emerged from the polling station, about a dozen people shouted at him: "Degage" French for "Go away" and "You are a terrorist and an assassin! Go back to London!"

Ghannouchi, who spent 22 years in exile in Britain, has associated his party with the moderate Islamism of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. He has said he will not try to impose Muslim values on society.

Considering what Erdogan has done to Turkey -- Islamifying the courts and society -- how "moderate" can Ghannouchi be? Not very, by western standards but probably less extreme than the Salfists. The problem, is that Ghannouchi will use the radicals, setting himself up as a reasonable alternative, while driving Tunisian society toward Islamification.