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Tunisian Americans Celebrate First Free Elections Since 1956

  • Jeff Swicord

Tunisians voted Sunday in what many are calling the political rebirth of the country. The Ennahdha party, a moderate Islamist group, looked set to win the most seats in early counting. Tunisia is the first country liberated from decades of dictatorship in the Arab Spring movement. At the only Tunisian restaurant in the Washington D.C. area there was reaction from those who had fled the dictatorship of President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali and are now watching their country's election.

In Tunisia, turnout was higher than expected for the first free elections in 42 years. Voters headed to the polls to vote for the National Constituent Assembly, a body of 217 representatives. They will draft the constitution and appoint an interim government.

There were long lines at the polls throughout the day, and excitement ran high.

Thousands of miles away in the United States, members of the Tunisian diaspora are also jubilant.

At the "Taste of Tunisia" restaurant in the Washington D.C. area, owners Intissar Jemali and Karim Adassi on Monday were recovering from hosting 150 people at an election party the day before.

Jemali has lived in the U.S. since 1993.

“Actually I was very excited to see the election after 23 years, it was a bad time," he said. "We all happy, all of Tunisia is happy.”

Adassi said Tunisia has been waiting for a revolution to bring freedom for decades.

“Election going to be a good step for the history of the people of Tunisia," he said. "Because people, they deserve to be free, to choose who is going to be the government.”

Dozens of political parties participated in the elections. The once-illegal Ennahdha movement, a moderate Islamist party, went into the voting with strong support. Jemali says the Ennahdha movement would be a good compromise for the country.

“It is a good mix because Tunisia it is considered a Muslim country so like 50, 60 percent practice, 40 percent don’t practice so, you have a right to choose whether you want to practice,” he said.

Both Jemali and Adassi think the elections will bring change to the country, starting with a respect for basic human rights.

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