- Research and Commentary
- October 31, 2011
- 4 minutes read
Understanding Tunisia’s Elections Results by Esam Al-Amin
In early 1994 a small Islamic think tank affiliated with the University of South Florida (USF) planned an academic forum to host Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of the main opposition party in Tunisia, Ennahdha. The objective of this annual event was to give Western academics and intellectuals a rare opportunity to engage an Islamically-oriented intellectual or political leader at a time when the political discourse was dominated by Samuel Huntington’s much hyped clash of civilizations thesis.Shortly after the public announcement of the event, pro-Israeli groups and advocates led by Martin Kramer, Daniel Pipes, Steven Emerson, the head of the local B’nai B’rith, and a small-time journalist for the local rightwing newspaper began a coordinated campaign to discredit the event and scare the university.
According to Arthur Lowrie, a former State Department official who was an adjunct professor at USF at the time, AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups exerted enormous pressure on the State Department to rescind its visa to Ghannouchi two weeks after it was issued in London. Consequently the university had to cancel the event, despite the strong protests by more than two-dozen scholars and academics. As a result, a valuable encounter between western intellectuals and opinion makers on the one hand, and a major figure in the Islamic world on the other, was obstructed because of a foreign agenda of a small but powerful interest group. This episode foreshadowed the anti-intellectual movement in subsequent years that sought to limit the ability of Islamic groups and figures to contribute to the national dialogue, especially after 9/11.
Since that day in 1994, Ghannouchi has never been issued a visa to enter the United States, although he had been to the country several times in the late 1980s and early 1990s. At the time, he was living in the United Kingdom after being granted political asylum and cleared by the British authorities of any links to violence. He had also won a defamation lawsuit in the U.K. against detractors and regime loyalists who accused him of fomenting violence and strife inside Tunisia.
Seventeen years later, Ghannouchi’s Islamically-oriented Ennahdha movement has won the elections in Tunisia with a commanding 42 percent of the vote. In effect, it received three times as many seats as the next highest party. These elections were largely praised by all relevant parties and international observers as democratic, free, fair, and transparent.