The New President of Tunisia Frames a Vision as that of Turkey

The New President of Tunisia Frames a Vision as that of Turkey

Tunisia has always witnessed political change and has been governed by different oppressive regimes in the recent past.  Notably, Tunisia was the main centre from where the Arab spring initiated.

By Muaz Muddassir Qasmi

Tunisia, an Islamic country, welcomed a newly elected president.  Dr. Kais Saied who has left the world bewildered by magically winning the election with 72.77% vote. Dr. Saeid, almost sixty one years old is the first man of his kind who won the presidential election by contesting it independently without taking support of any political party in the modern history of Tunisia.  

Tunisia in North Africa is an Arabic speaking country, with the population of 1.15 crore, where 97% are Sunni Muslims, 2.0% are other Muslims whereas 1.0% are non-Muslims. It has been witnessing politically ups and downs after getting independence from France in 1956.

Tunisia has always witnessed political change and has been governed by different oppressive regimes in the recent past.  Tunisia was the main centre from where the Arab spring (a series of anti-government protests and uprisings) initiated its spread across the Arab countries and consequently, the governments collapsed in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia.

The revolution erupted in Tunisia after a twenty six year old Tarek Mohmood Bouazizi who was a jobless youth and in despair he immolated himself in December 2010. This fuelled and brought into open the hidden resentment of the masses regarding the government, and as a result massive protests broke out. It continued until the fall of the then government led by the president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and he fled from the country in 2011.

Dr. Kais Saied is the fifth president of Tunisia after the country got independence from France in 1956. He was one of the twenty five candidates who stood for the presidential post in 2019. In the first round of the presidential elections held on 15 September 2019, Kais managed to gain success for the second round with 620,711 votes, while his closely rival billionaire Nabil Karouil from Heart of Tunisia party could get only 525, 517 votes. 18.40% and 15.58% were their vote shares respectively.

Dr. Kais Saied and Nabil Karouil had to face the final round to reach the Carthage Palace (the Presidential Palace of Tunisia and the seat of the president). The final round for the selection of the president of republic Tunisia was conducted on 13 October 2019, in which Kais Saied won the election with a massive mandate leaving his competitor Nabil Karouil far behind as Dr. Kais earned 2,777,931 with 72.71% vote share, whereas Nabil Karouil could gain only 1,042,894 with just 27.29% vote share.

As Saied stood independently, he was supported by Ennahdha, a Muslim democratic political party, to form a government.

Dr. Saied is neither a politician basically, nor was he a part of any political party in the past. He was a professor at the University of Tunis; he retired from his post in 2018. He spent his life serving the cause of education; he was the Secretary-General of the Tunisian Association of Constitutional Law between 1990 and 1995, and later he served as the vice president of the same organization.

He also served as a Dean of the Law Department at the University of Sousse.

The big success of Dr. Saied is considered as a new initiative in the political life of Tunisia. Dr. Saied earned wide acceptance from the youth of the country.

He shared his clear vision, ideology and thought in a TV talk show debate. He proved himself as a hard-line opponent of ties with Israel and declared any move towards the relations with Israel as high treason.

When the moderator asked him about his stand on normalizing the relation with Israel, angrily he replied as 'Normalization' is the wrong word to use,” he retorted. “We should be talking about high treason.”

This is a very sensitive issue in the Muslim countries; the leaders of Arab countries hesitate to take a bold step and to make a clear decision regarding relations with Israel. However, Saied, showed his tolerance regarding the Jews who are in the country or come to visit the country's Ghriba Synagogue, a traditionally place worship for Jews. Hundreds of Israelis visit it for an annual pilgrimage during the Lag Ba'Omer holiday.

Apart from it, Saeid also declared that he cannot allow the Jews with Israel passports to enter the country, and also rejected dealing with “Zionists” because he accuses them of displacing the Palestinians. 

He also has put his view plainly about capital punishment, homosexuality, sexual assault and the inheritance for males and females. He had declared that the principles which have been mentioned in Islamic teachings regarding these issues will be implemented accordingly. These were the issues which have been challenged in the previous regimes. But Dr. Saied had clearly indicated he intended to reform these and other more controversial measures adopted by the previous government.

Apart from his stance on the above mentioned issues, his simplicity, and his law–abiding nature has given him fame and appealed to the masses as it seemed that he was their own voice.  Despite the meager resources of the country, Saied had announced before the second round of voting that  he would not campaign against  his competent,  media magnate Karoui who was arrested in late August for money-laundering and tax evasion charges, as he feared that it would give him an unfair advantage.

Unlike other politicians, Dr. Kais Saied was not found involved in any corruption. Of course he did not receive any funds from any of the big parties nor from any countries, which shielded him from any suspicion.

The people of Tunisia have found a ray of hope in the personality of Dr. Kais Saied, because he stood firmly against all the issues which are against Islam and Muslim ideology. He has been heard asserting that we have in Qur'an the best source of guidance.

Under the previous, numerous initiatives have been taken which were completely against Islam. Polygamy was banned; women could seek divorce on equal terms with men.

The Muslims of Tunisia struggled and sacrificed their lives to get freedom from France so that they can practice their Islam freely. But, after getting the freedom from 75 years as a protectorate of France in 1956, El Habib Bouguiba became the first president of Tunisia in 1957 and continued till 1987. During his term the constitution was adopted in 1959, to become the republic of Tunisia.

In the constitution numerous reforms influenced by western culture ware carried out by Bouguiba aiming to modernize Tunisian society.

According to Wikipedia he suppressed the property legislation of habous (waqf property), deeply rooted in Islamic traditions.

He prohibited polygamy, and reformed the judicial system, suppressing religious courts and initiating governmental ones.

In February 1961, he invited his fellow citizens not to fast during Ramadhan in order to struggle against underdevelopment and set the basis of a new modern state.

He adopted the method of Kamal Ataturk for the development of the country who also played a pivotal role in westernizing Turkey.

Maulana Alimiyan Nadwi (rh) has described several reforms carried out by Habib, a founder of new Tunisia, and his statements in his Urdu book “Muslim Mamalik Me Islamiya aur Magribiyyat ki Kashmakash”. With the reference of famous news paper of Paris “Le Monde” Ali Miya Nadwi (rh) mentioned that Habib had nullified the practice of polygamy, and the men were not allowed to divorce their wives, and the rights of men hade been restricted.

He also directly attacked Islam and Qur'an, and once he said that there is contradiction in Qur’an which is against our wisdom. He also said that the Muslims has elevated their prophet to the status of God, as they always send blessings to him; it means Allah (swt) is bound to shower his blessing upon him.

These were some indications of his mindset which are enough to understand to what extent he had gone to westernize an Islamic country through the newly adopted constitution.

However, the second president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who ruled the country from 7 November 1987 until the fall of his government on 14 January 2011 did not bring major changes that challenged Islam in the constitution.

The third president Moncef Marzouki was a seemingly Islamic minded; on several occasions he was arrested on charge of working with banned Islamic groups. After the fall of Ben Ali government, he returned back to the country from France and contested the presidential election in December 2011 in which he emerged as the 3rd president of the country, and he remained on the post till 31 December 2014.

Once again the fourth president of the country Beji Caid Essebsi who took the presidential charge on 31 December 2014 and remained until his death on 25 July 2019, followed the footsteps of El Habib Bouguiba by carrying out some reforms which were against the basic teachings of Islam.

In 2017 Beji Caid Essebsi introduced amendments to the inheritance law in order to confer the equal rights for both men and women.  He also sought the amendment to the law to be introduced, so that the women can be able get married with non-Muslims, which he believed that it is not in direct conflict with Shariah. He also did not approve the bill criminalizing the ties with Israel introduced by the opposition and delayed a debate over it.

Before the presidential election in 2019, Dr. Kais Saied emerged with his clear vision and termed the effort normalizing the relation with Israel as a great treason. He did not hesitate to assert that homosexuality is not acceptable in Tunisian society, men and women cannot inherit equally, and he also boldly declared that the sexual assault law which punishes unmarried couples for showing their affections, should be punished.

The first president of republic of Tunisia, Habib followed the reforms of Kamal Ataturk of Turkey to westernize the country. However the president of Tunisia Dr. Saied seems to follow the footsteps of the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who always raised his voice for the betterment of the Muslims and especially the Palestine Muslims.

According to worldatlas.com (April 2017) there are 45 Islamic countries in the world, but except a few such as Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Mahathir Mohammad of Malaysia, Imran Khan of Pakistan, and Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar, no one has the guts to become the voice of the oppressed Muslims in Palestine and other countries and they did not seem to have power to rule the country without being influenced by western culture.

The three leaders of Turkey, Malaysia and Pakistan look as if they are concerned for Muslims, their culture and the teachings of their religion. PM. Imran Khan after he had a meeting with these two leaders in UNA in September 2019 has tweeted:  President Erdogan, PM Mahathir and myself had a meeting today in which we decided our 3 countries would jointly start an English language channel dedicated to confronting the challenges posed by Islamophobia and setting the record straight on our great religion. This was on Sept 26, 2019. This is a clear vision and bold step that is reflected in the tweet.

If Dr. Kais Saied could manage to work in accordance with his vision that he has shared before the contesting the presidential election, then a good leadership in Muslim world is expected in the future.

The writer is teacher at MMERC, Mumbai