Tunisia’s revolutionary youth disillusioned ahead of municipal elections

Many young Tunisians are enraged at being kept apart from a political scene that they think it is reserved for veterans from all political sides. (AFP)
Updated 03 May 2018
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Tunisia’s revolutionary youth disillusioned ahead of municipal elections

  • Many Tunisian youths say they are not planning to vote in the May 6 elections that many hope will help anchor democratic change at a local level.
  • Municipal leaders elected on Sunday will have more autonomy than those in office under Ben Ali.

TUNIS: Clean streets, functional transportation, a football field... young Tunisians are not asking for the moon from their soon-to-be elected officials, but many are skeptical about whether they will bring real change.

In this Sunday’s municipal elections, the first in Tunisia since the 2011 revolution, a third of voters and a majority of the candidates will be under the age of 36.

But if they were the primary driver of mass protests that ousted Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, which gave birth to the only democracy of the Arab Spring, many youths are now pessimistic.

With tailored tweed trousers and slicked-back hair, 22-year-old Yosri Aloulou steps over rubbish and dirty water in the Old City of Tunis as he heads home to his family’s apartment after finishing work at a hip cafe in the capital.

“You see, over there is Rue de Riche (Street of the Rich), but here it’s the street of the poor,” he said, chuckling with his friends.

They are frustrated by the stark contrast between the carefully renovated touristic medina next door and their neighborhood of Bab Jdid, where dilapidated houses are collapsing.

“I would like the road to be repaved and the rubbish bins collected, and that water didn’t come up to your knees every time it rains for half-an-hour,” said the young man, who finished high school last summer and is now working to save money to pay for film studies.

“Here, there’s not even a youth center or a football field,” he said.

When young people from the neighborhood presented a list of ideas to local authorities, Aloulou said, they were told to vote and take the issues up with their newly elected representatives.

“The civil society organizations are acting. They are just blah blah,” he said, pointing to a group of campaigning political activists who passed by Bab Jdid’s entrance without stopping.

Disenchanted with what they view as a lack of improvement since the revolution, and a distrust of a political class full of “old elephants,” many Tunisian youths say they are not planning to vote in the May 6 elections that many hope will help anchor democratic change at a local level.

But in the west of the capital, Wasila Najar, a medical intern at the Manouba Hospital, wants to “keep hope that change is possible.”

“In my district, there is a surgeon and other people I know who are stepping forward with real proposals,” said the 29-year-old student, citing pollution, rubbish collection and transportation issues.

Municipal leaders elected on Sunday will have more autonomy than those in office under Ben Ali, and more prerogatives than the special delegations tasked with the day-to-day management of cities since the revolution.

“For me, it’s the independent lists that can improve the situation, with local officials who know our problems and have ideas on how to solve them,” said Najar.

Only the Islamists of the Ennahda party and the liberals of Nidaa Tounes have managed to secure lists in all 350 municipalities, and many observers expect them to capture a good part of the cities.

But Wasila says she still plans to vote on Sunday to avoid leaving “the country to those who have lied and disappointed us” in recent years.

After parliamentary elections in 2014, Nidaa Tounes, elected on an anti-extremist ticket, quickly made an alliance with Ennahda, leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of many Tunisian voters.

This is precisely why Ghazoua Maaouia, a gym teacher who voted in 2014, will not vote this time around.

“This campaign is pure comedy,” she said. Candidates clash on TV, she said, but the real deals are made “in backstage arrangements between the big parties that share the cake.”

Maaouia, who teaches at a public school downtown while completing her doctorate, believes young candidates will never have a true seat at the table. For her, the young political hopefuls are only “symbolic.”

“Young people have ideas, they do a lot of things in the field, but they have no political power to get things done.”


Egypt votes on extending El-Sisi’s rule, country awaits result

Updated 20 April 2019
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Egypt votes on extending El-Sisi’s rule, country awaits result

  • El-Sisi cast his ballot at a polling station in the eastern suburb of Heliopolis in the Egyptian capital
  • Supporters argue that El-Sisi has stabilized Egypt and needs more time to complete crucial economic reforms.

CAIRO: Egyptians were voting on Saturday in a referendum that aims to cement the rule of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the former coup leader who presents himself as a rock of stability in a turbulent region.

Voters were being asked to back amendments to the constitution to allow El-Sisi, 64, to run for another six-year term while boosting his control over the judiciary and giving the military even greater influence in political life.

At a polling station in Manyal, a Cairo suburb overlooking the Nile, Mohamed Abdel Salam, 45, told AFP he was voting enthusiastically in support of the changes.

"I don't care about the presidential terms," he said.

"Sisi could stay forever as long as he's doing his job... and he has already done a lot"

The three-day referendum bucks the trend of North Africa's renewed uprisings, in which mass pro-democracy protests this month swept away veteran presidents in Algeria and Sudan.

Sisi himself was among the first to vote when polls opened, casting his ballot in the upmarket Cairo suburb of Heliopolis.

In Shubra, a working-class neighbourhood of the capital, dozens of voters, mostly women carrying their children, queued outside a polling station in the local high school.

In Cairo, troops and police were deployed in numbers although the interior ministry declined to give any nationwide figures.

Egypt is still battling a hardened Islamic insurgency based in the Sinai Peninsula that has seen attacks in Cairo and other cities.

Sisi has argued that he needs longer to complete the job of restoring security and stability after the turmoil that followed the overthrow of veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak in the Arab Spring of 2011.

Out on the streets, Sisi's supporters waved flags bearing their campaign motto: "Do the Right" thing, as they pressed passers-by to turn out and vote 'Yes'.

The Egyptian leader won his first term as president in 2014, a year after he led the army in overthrowing elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi following mass protests against his single turbulent year in power.

Standing virtually unopposed after the disqualification or withdrawal of all realistic challengers, he was re-elected in March 2018 with more than 97 percent.

Both elections drew heavy criticism from human rights groups as they were accompanied by swingeing crackdowns on dissent -- both Islamist and secular.

Human Rights Watch also took issue with the referendum on extending Sisi's rule, saying the "constitutional amendments" would "entrench repression".

In a statement Saturday, the New York-based watchdog criticised the "grossly unfree, rights-abusive environment" of the vote.

For the past few weeks, Egypt's streets have been awash with banners and billboards urging citizens to vote for Sisi, while popular folk singers have exhorted voters to go to the polls.

Pro-Sisi campaign volunteers handed out boxed meals at four different polling stations in Cairo to voters after they had cast their ballots, AFP reporters said.

A parliamentarian greeted voters and volunteers gave out vouchers for the meals in the Shubra district.

In Manyal, a DJ blared loud patriotic songs extolling the virtues of Egypt under Sisi's leadership, including a new song by iconic Lebanese diva Nancy Ajram dedicated to Egypt and called "Ragel ibn Ragel" (What a fine man).

But not everyone is upbeat about the changes.

Sporting casual attire, a voter in his mid-30s told AFP in Cairo: "We are all staff in the same company and we were instructed by management to go vote.

"I want to say 'No'... on extending the presidential terms and the amendments related to the judiciary," he said declining to give his name for fear of repercussions.

He pointed to his bosses nearby who were making sure employees were voting.

"Even if I say 'No', they (the authorities) are still going to do what they want in the end," he added despondently.

Earlier in the week, parliament overwhelmingly endorsed the consitutional changes, which also include the creation of a second parliamentary chamber and a quota ensuring at least 25 percent of lawmakers are women.

Think tank the Soufan Center said the main effect of the referendum would be to "solidify Sisi's grip on the Egyptian political regime" in a country that "has become even more autocratic than it was under Mubarak".