Over the weekend the people of Tunisia held their first election after the deposition of dictator Ben Ali. This was not big news in this country because there was no political advantage for Obama in it. The Tunisians sparked the series of uprisings in the Arab world and carried through their revolt without Western interference, so we can't take credit for any of it. Now the Tunisians have created an interim government charged with crafting a new constitution for their country. What about the outcome of the elections, the final results of which will not be known for several days? What does it mean? Well, it depends on where you get your information.
The NY Times reports the election as a win for "moderates".
[A] moderate Islamic party, Ennahda, is expected to win at least a plurality of seats in the Tunisian assembly. The party’s leaders have vowed to create another kind of new model for the Arab world, one reconciling Islamic principles with Western-style democracy.Of course they would -- they have consistently tried to cast the wave of revolutions, which they call the "Arab Spring" in the most favorable terms possible.
The BBC agrees that "Ennahda" is polling well, but characterizes it quite differently from the NYT:
Islamist party Ennahda is expected to win the most votes, though it is not clear if it will gain a majority.Reuters splits the difference, referring to Ennahda as a moderately Islamist Ennahda party.
USA Today also adopts the moderate Islamist designation for Ennahda but notes that heretofore Tunisia has been a determinedly secular and tolerant society and that Ennahda's rise is a major victory for the Islamist forces in the region.They also note that the "Progressive Democratic Party" a secular party which is receptive to Western culture did poorly. So, even if the Islamists have not overwhelmed the opposition, the election seems to represent a broad rejection of secularism.
So what does it mean? Who knows at this point. The fact that the elections were broadly supported and carried out with no disturbance is a hopeful sign, but the rise of Islamism might be troubling. One thing is sure -- the biggest source of discontent in Tunisia is widespread unemployment, and since the country's economy depends greatly on Western tourism whatever government is finally installed will be careful not to take any actions that would permanently undermine that lucrative business and that consideration is likely to put limits on Islamic radicalism.