Islamist-backed candidate becomes first woman mayor of Tunis

Souad Abderrahim, 54, flashes the V-sign after being elected as mayor of the Tunisian capital, Tunis. Souad Abderrahim of the Ennahdha party won the post in the second round of voting by the municipal council; the first time a woman holds the post. (AP)
Updated 03 July 2018
0

Islamist-backed candidate becomes first woman mayor of Tunis

TUNIS: Islamist-backed candidate Souad Abderrahim defeated a city official who served under ousted despot Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali on Tuesday to become the first woman mayor of the Tunisian capital.
“I dedicate this victory to all Tunisian women,” Abderrahim said. “My first task will be to improve the face of Tunis.”
Deteriorating waste disposal services have blighted the capital since Ben Ali’s 2011 overthrow in the first of that year’s Arab Spring uprisings.
The 53-year-old manager of a pharmaceutical firm, known for her trouser suits and blow-drys, has risen to the fore as one of the new faces of veteran Islamist party Ennahdha as it seeks to modernize its image.
Although she is a member of the party’s politburo, she stood as an independent in the May 6 municipal election, in which she headed the Ennahdha list.
With 21 seats out of 60, the list emerged as the largest on the city council but well short of a majority.
Municipal elections in Tunisia were marked by low turnout by a public facing ongoing economic hardship and frustrated with political elites.
Across the country independent lists took the highest number of seats, winning 32.9 percent nationwide.
Abderrahim was elected mayor in a second round of voting by councillors which was boycotted by left-wing and centrist parties who refused to support the candidates of either of the main parties.
She defeated Kamel Idir, candidate of the Nidaa Tounes party of President Beji Caid Essebsi, by 26 votes to 22.
An activist during her university years, Abderrahim sat within the Ennahdha bloc of a new constituent assembly between 2011 and 2014.
During that time she caused controversy for her criticism of single mothers, before disappearing from the political scene until the May municipal elections.
The new mayor rejected the “Islamist” label, asserting she wanted to work with all parties.
“We have chosen transparency as a slogan,” Abderrahim said.
The Ennahdha party in 2016 acknowledged the separation of religion and politics, describing itself as “democratic Muslim.”
As municipal councils are being formed across Tunisia, observers say the proportion of female mayors could be relatively high.
According to the country’s electoral commission (ISIE), women made up 47 percent of those elected in the recent local polls.


A year after Daesh defeat, Iraq in throes of political crisis

Updated 18 min 28 sec ago
0

A year after Daesh defeat, Iraq in throes of political crisis

  • Five months after Baghdad declared its win, the country held legislative elections that did not produce a clear governing coalition
  • The ongoing power struggle among various parties has stymied efforts by new premier Adel Abdel Mahdi, widely seen as a weak consensus candidate, to form a government

BAGHDAD: A year since Iraq announced “victory” over the Daesh group, the country finds itself in the throes of political and economic crises left unresolved during the long battle against militants.
Unified against the common menace of Daesh, Iraq’s political elites are now at loggerheads over the drawn-out formation of a cabinet as the threat of renewed popular protests looms.
Iraq is no stranger to instability. It fought an eight-year war with Iran in the 1980s, then a conflict over Kuwait followed by a crippling international embargo and the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.
A sectarian war ensued, capped in 2014 by Daesh’s devastating sweep across a third of the country.
Backed by a US-led international coalition, Iraqi troops and paramilitary forces battled the militants for three years, until Baghdad finally declared it had won in December 2017.
After decades of nearly back-to-back wars, Iraq’s decision-makers are now forced to face deep-rooted dilemmas left festering for years.
“In Iraq you’ve seen many ‘missions accomplished’,” said Renad Mansour, senior fellow at Chatham House in London.
“But as usual, the much more challenging victory is the political victory — which has always been left for another day.”
Five months after Baghdad declared its win, the country held legislative elections that did not produce a clear governing coalition.
Then-prime minister Haider Al-Abadi failed to hold on to his position despite claiming credit for victory, as people turned to populist parties who tapped anger over corruption.
The ongoing power struggle among various parties has stymied efforts by new premier Adel Abdel Mahdi, widely seen as a weak consensus candidate, to form a government.

In October, Abdel Mahdi managed to fill 14 of the cabinet’s 22 posts, but repeated efforts to hold a parliamentary vote on the remaining eight, including the key interior and defense ministries, have failed.
“The distribution of power, the race to acquire as many government positions as possible under the guise of real competition between parties — that is at the root of the problem,” Iraqi political analyst Jassem Hanoun told AFP.
“Iraq is still living in a transition period, without political stability or a clear administrative vision for the country.”
As the process drags on, observers have wondered whether Abdel Mahdi could step down, further destabilising a country just getting back on its feet.
“Withdrawal is an option,” a source close to the government said, adding that Abdel Mahdi “has his resignation letter in his back pocket.”
“Only if the political situation gets significantly worse can I see him taking it out of his pocket and using it,” the source said.
But the thorny issues facing Iraq extend beyond the capital.
Much of the country remains in ruins after three years of ferocious fighting, including large swathes of one-time Daesh capital Mosul and the northern Sinjar region.
An international summit in Kuwait in February gathered around $30 billion in pledges for Iraq’s reconstruction — less than a third of what Baghdad hoped to receive.
More than 1.8 million Iraqis are still displaced, many languishing in camps, and 8 million require humanitarian aid, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.
“If this is what ‘victory’ looks like, then there is little to celebrate for millions of Iraqis still haunted by the crimes of the IS and the long war to eliminate it,” said NRC’s head Jan Egeland.

Violence has dropped across Iraq, according to the United Nations, which recorded the lowest casualty figures in six years in November with 41 civilians killed.
But the threat of hit-and-run attacks lingers.
A recent study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies found that while the total number of Daesh attacks in Iraq had dropped in 2018, those against government targets had increased compared to 2017.
Observers are also worried that the bitter squabbles among Iraqi’s political forces could turn violent.
“Because of the divisions among the parties, anything is possible,” Hanoun said.
One scenario would be a conflict among the country’s competing Shiite Muslim factions, which he said would be a “disaster.”
But another major fault line divides Iraq’s entrenched politicians and an increasingly frustrated public.
Deadly protests in the summer of 2017 saw tens of thousands turn out over unemployment, a lack of public services, and accusations of corruption.
Rampant power cuts mean millions of Iraqis have just a few hours of state-provided electricity per day. The country is ranked the 12th most corrupt in the world, according to the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index.
Protest leaders have threatened a return to the streets if these issues, as well as the political stalemate, are not resolved.
“There’s certainly a conflict within the Shiite camp, but the biggest conflict will be between the people and the whole system,” said Mansour.
“Summertime will be a test for Abdel Mahdi.”