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Sudanese Islamists support military’s push for Sharia

Religion is for God, politics is for the street -protesters respond

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Sudanese Islamists support military's push for Sharia
Leader of the Nusrat Al-Sharia Movement, Abdelhay Yousef is among Sudan's Islamist movements who are backing the army in the hope it will keep sharia law in place. (Photo by ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP)

With talks suspended between protest leaders and Sudan’s military over a transfer of power to civilian rule, Islamist movements are backing the army in the hope it will keep Sharia law in place.

Islamist parties stayed on the sidelines during the months of nationwide protests that led to the April ouster of long-time ruler Omar al-Bashir.

They have since not joined the protest alliance at loggerheads with the generals over the makeup of a new governing body, which would rule the country for a three-year transitional period.

But hundreds of Islamists have rallied in the capital in recent days, warning they would reject any deal that would exclude Sharia -Islamic law- from the country’s political roadmap.

They have also backed the army’s demands that the head of Sudan’s new governing body be a military figure -putting them at odds with protesters who want civilian rule.

“We agree with (protesters) that there will be a cabinet of civilian technocrats,” said Hassan Rizk, deputy head of the Islamist Reform Now Movement, a breakaway group from the National Congress Party formerly led by Bashir.

“But the sovereign council should be headed by the armed forces because there is a security problem.”

Bashir came to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989 and Sudanese legislation has since been underpinned by Islamic law.

But the protest leaders have remained silent on whether sharia has a place in Sudan’s future, arguing that their main concern is installing a civilian administration.

‘Stole the revolution’ –

Ultraconservative preacher, Abdelhay Yousef, a leader of the Nusrat Al-Sharia movement, drew large crowds Friday at a mosque in the capital’s southern Jabra district.

He used his sermon to champion Islamic law and to rail against the prospect of secular rule.

Buses then transported worshippers to a courtyard outside Khartoum’s presidential palace where they broke their daytime fast for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan before rallying against the roadmap.

“Free revolutionaries will not be ruled by the forces of the left,” they chanted.

Nusrat Al-Sharia chief Mohamed Ali Jazuli justified the rejection by Islamists, saying the negotiations between the protesters and the generals were for an agreement that was “purely bilateral and excluding” the Islamists and other political forces.

While the protest alliance could be a “partner in change”, he said, it was not “the only leader of the revolution”.

“The revolution was not against ideology but against corruption and tyranny,” he said.

Tayeb Mustafa, who heads a coalition of conservative parties, said Islamists were opposed to the transition plan because it “ignored the application of Islamic law”.

The protest alliance “stole the revolution in broad daylight”, said Mustafa, whose 2020 coalition brings together Islamist groups, including the Popular Congress Party, a long-time ally of Bashir.

‘Religion is for God’ –

Analysts say Islamists’ close ties to Bashir have made it difficult for them to join forces with protesters and their Alliance for Freedom and Change umbrella group.

“It’s impossible to equate a party that has always been opposed to the regime with another side that was with the regime until its fall,” said prominent Sudanese journalist, Khaled Tijani.

“Freedom and Change therefore has the right to lead.”

A few metres (yards) away from the Islamist rally outside the presidential palace, a man wearing traditional robes lit a cigarette as the call to prayer marked the end of the day’s fast.

“We’re fed up with the injection of religion into politics,” he said in a low voice.

“We want freedom, we don’t want to be ruled by anyone in the name of religion…What have we done with 30 years of that kind of rule?” he asked.

“Religion is for God, politics is for the street.”

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2 candidates claim first round wins in Tunisia elections

Turnout was reported by the elections commission (ISIE) to be 45 percent, down from 64 percent recorded in the 2014 polls

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Tunisia elections: 2 candidates claim wins

Two anti-establishment candidates in Tunisia’s election claimed Sunday to have won through to a runoff, hours after polling closed in the country’s second free presidential poll since the 2011 Arab Spring.

In a sign of voter apathy, especially among the young, turnout was reported by the elections commission (ISIE) to be 45 percent, down from 64 percent recorded in the 2014 polls. Kais Saied, a 61-year-old law professor and expert on constitutional affairs who ran as an independent, claimed to be in pole position.

He finished “first in the first round,” he said, citing exit polls ahead of preliminary results expected to be announced on Tuesday. There was also an upbeat atmosphere at the party headquarters of jailed media mogul Nabil Karoui, behind bars due to a money laundering probe, as hundreds of supporters celebrated after he also claimed to have reached the second round.

Other prominent candidates in the first round included Abdelfattah Mourou, heading a first-time bid for Islamist-inspired party Ennahdha, and Prime Minister Youssef Chahed. Ennahdha insisted it would wait for the official results. 

“Only the elections board gives the results,” said Ennahdha MP and Mourou’s campaign director, Samir Dilou. “I do not doubt the work of the polling institutes, (but) it is not their role to impose a certain truth on the public,” he told reporters.

Chahed’s popularity has been tarnished by a sluggish economy and the rising cost of living. The prime minister has also found himself having to vehemently deny accusations that Karoui’s detention since late August was politically inspired.

Tunisia Elections: citizens cast their votes
Tunisian voter queue to cast their ballots at a polling station in Marsa city, northeast of Tunis, Tunisia, to elect the Tunisia’s president in a first-round vote of the presidential elections, on September 15, 2019. (Photo by Chedly Ben Ibrahim/NurPhoto)

Read: Detained but undeterred; Nabil Karoui’s campaign continues in Tunisia

‘Where are the young?’

“Young people of Tunisia, you still have an hour to vote!” ISIE head Nabil Baffoun had urged before the close of Sunday’s vote. “We must leave our homes and vote – it’s a right that we gained from the 2011 revolution which cost lives,” Baffoun added, visibly disappointed by the turnout.

However, he later said that the turnout of 45 percent was “an acceptable level”. At polling stations visited by journalists, there was a high proportion of older voters, but few young people. The election followed an intense campaign characterised more by personality clashes than political differences. 

It had been brought forward by the death of 92-year-old president Beji Caid Essebsi, who died in July and whose widow also passed away on Sunday morning. Essebsi had been elected in the wake of the 2011 revolt that overthrew former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Publication of opinion polls has officially been banned since July. Some of the 24 hopefuls who contested the polls tried to burnish anti-establishment credentials to distance themselves from a political elite discredited by personal quarrels. Another independent candidate was Defence Minister Abdelkarim Zbidi, a technocrat running for the first time, although with backing from Essebsi’s Nidaa Tounes party.

The long list of active runners was trimmed by the last-minute withdrawal of two candidates in favour of Zbidi, although their names remained on the ballot paper. But Karoui’s detention, just 10 days ahead of the start of campaigning, has been the top story of the election. Studies suggested his arrest boosted his popularity.

A controversial businessman, Karoui built his appeal by using his Nessma television channel to launch charity campaigns, handing out food aid to some of the country’s poorest. But his detractors portray him as a would-be Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian premier who they allege partly owns his channel.

On Friday, an appeal for the Tunisian mogul’s release from prison ahead of the election was rejected, his party and lawyers said. The polarisation risks derailing the electoral process, according to Michael Ayari, an analyst for the International Crisis Group.

Tunisian voter queue to cast their ballots at a polling station in Marsa city
Tunisian voters queue to cast their ballots at a polling station in Marsa city, northeast of Tunis, Tunisia, to elect the Tunisia’s president in a first-round vote of the presidential elections, on September 15, 2019. (Photo by Chedly Ben Ibrahim/NurPhoto)

Read: Tunisia decides: Voters head to polls in test on democracy

‘Divisive’ candidates

Isabelle Werenfels, a researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, called the vote a democratic “test” because “it may require accepting the victory of a polarising candidate” such as Karoui. Distrust of the political elite has been deepened by an unemployment rate of 15 percent and a rise in the cost of living by close to a third since 2016.

Jihadist attacks have exacted a heavy toll on the key tourism sector. Around 70,000 security forces were mobilised for the polls. The date of a second and final round between the top two candidates has not been announced, but it must be held by October 23 at the latest and may even take place on the same day as legislative polls, October 6.

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Algeria’s interim President announces elections on December 12

Demonstrators are demanding key regime figures step down and an overhaul of political institutions before any polls

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Abdelkader Bensalah announces Algeria Elections December 12

Algeria is to hold a presidential election on December 12, five months into a political vacuum since longtime leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned in the face of mass protests, his interim successor announced Sunday.

“I have decided… that the date of the presidential election will be Thursday, December 12,” said Abdelkader Bensalah, who is precluded from standing himself, in a televised address to the nation.

The announcement comes after army chief General Ahmed Gaid Salah, seen as Algeria’s strongman since the fall of the ailing Bouteflika, insisted that polls be held by the end of 2019, despite ongoing protests demanding the creation of new institutions ahead of any elections.

On Friday, Algerian protesters returned to the streets after parliament passed bills paving the way for the announcement of elections.

Demonstrators are demanding key regime figures step down and an overhaul of political institutions before any polls, arguing an election under the current framework would only reinforce the status quo.

Gaid Salah earlier this month called for an electoral college to be summoned on September 15 so as to conduct an election within 90 days, in mid-December. Last week, parliament passed two bills that would facilitate the announcement of the vote. 

Justice Minister Belkacem Zeghmati presented the bills on Wednesday, with both legislative chambers passing them within two days. Opposition parties in the People’s National Assembly boycotted the session in which the bills were passed.

The first bill proposed the creation of an “independent” election authority, while the second text was a revision of Algeria’s electoral law. Presidential polls originally planned for July 4 were postponed due to a lack of viable candidates, plunging the country into a constitutional crisis as the 90-day mandate for Bensalah expired in early July. 

The army’s high command has rejected any solution to the crisis other than presidential elections “in the shortest possible time”.

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Tunisia decides: Voters head to polls in test on democracy

Tunisia has been praised as a rare success story for democratic transition after the Arab Spring regional uprisings

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Tunisia decides: Voters head to polls in test on democracy
Tunisians walk in front of posters of presidential candidates in the capital Tunis, on September 7, 2019. (Photo by FETHI BELAID / AFP)

Tunisia will hold on Sunday its second free presidential election by universal suffrage since the 2011 uprising that toppled an autocratic regime, with growing uncertainty over who will reach the next round.

Twenty-six candidates are in the race, including the incumbent prime minister and a media magnate who was arrested just weeks before the polls, as well as a presidential hopeful put forth by an Islamist-inspired party.

Seven million voters are expected to head to the ballot box after a campaign that largely focussed on social and economic challenges that have plagued the country’s fledgeling democracy.

“There are favourites and everything is possible, but even God cannot predict the results of the first round, let alone what will happen next,” columnist Ziyed Krichen said.

Political analyst Hatem Mrad agreed. “This election is really one of uncertainties,” he said.

Tunisia has been praised as a rare success story for democratic transition after the Arab Spring regional uprisings sparked by its 2011 revolution.

Three years later, it held its first post-revolution election, during which the political fault lines were clear, said Mrad, with Islamists squaring off against modernists.

But this time around, the differences are huge, with a plethora of candidates — Islamists, secularists, populists and partisans of the toppled regime — political programmes and issues, he added.

Preliminary results are expected to be announced by the electoral commission on September 17, but the date of the second round, which will decide the presidency, is not yet known.

Heavyweights –

Heavyweight candidates include Prime Minister Youssef Chahed and his nemesis Nabil Karoui, the media magnate arrested on charges of money laundering just three weeks before the election.

Tunisia decides: Voters head to polls in test on democracy
Prime Minister of Tunisia, Youssef Chahed speaks during a meeting ahead of the upcoming presidential elections, in Tunis, Tunisia on September 02, 2019. Yassine Gaidi / Anadolu Agency

Karoui’s supporters accuse Chahed of orchestrating his arrest, a charge denied by the ambitious prime minister who became the country’s youngest-ever head of government in 2016 at age 40.

A controversial businessman, Karoui has built his popularity by using his own Nessma television channel to launch charity campaigns, handing out food aid to some of the country’s poorest.

On Wednesday, the jailed candidate started a hunger strike, according to a member of his defence team, Ridha Belhaj.

Studies suggest that his arrest boosted his popularity, and observers say that if Karoui makes it to the second round of voting, it will be hard for authorities to justify keeping him behind bars without a trial. 

Tunisia decides: Voters head to polls in test on democracy
Nabil Karaoui, founder of Nessma TV, poses in his studio in Tunis. – The Independent High Authority for Audiovisual Communication (HAICA), created in 2012 to reform the audiovisual landscape, fails to impose its decisions on media outlets with political support. With the elections approaching, however, measures were taken against Nessma TV, one of the country’s major private broadcasters, which was accused of “political advertising” for its founder Nabil Karoui. (Photo by Fethi Belaid / AFP)

Also in the race is lawyer Abdelfattah Mourou, 71, who was selected to run by the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party, and Mohammed Abbou, who was imprisoned under the ousted regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Candidates also include former defence minister Abdelkarim Zbidi, a technocrat who said he would “restart the social ladder” and make public services accessible to all Tunisians, if elected.

Two women are also eyeing the presidency, including Abir Moussi, a staunch anti-Islamist lawyer and champion of Ben Ali’s regime.

Tunisia decides: Voters head to polls in test on democracy
Ennahdha Party’s Candidate for the presidential election in Tunisia Abdelfattah Mourou (C) holds a press conference regarding his election pledges ahead of the Tunisia’s presidential election which is slated for September 15, in Tunis, Tunisia on September 9, 2019. Yassine Gaidi / Anadolu Agency

Social challenges – 

The presidential campaign wraps up on Friday, but none of the candidates appears to have stood out despite squaring off in multiple debates that were broadcast on radio and television.

Around two to three million Tunisians are believed to have tuned in to three major debates, during which candidates were asked to respond to questions drawn randomly.

The economic and social hardships that undermine Tunisia’s transition to democracy took centre stage during the campaign.

The country, hit by terrorist attacks against its key tourism sector and security forces, has struggled to combat unemployment and bring down inflation.

Unemployment in Tunisia is at 15 per cent, while the cost of living has increased by more than 30 per cent since 2016.

The election was brought forward from November after the death in July of Beji Caid Essebsi, Tunisia’s first president democratically elected in nationwide polls in 2014.

It will be followed by legislative elections, due to take place on October 6.

Some of the 26 hopefuls have called for the president’s powers to be beefed up in Tunisia, which has a parliamentary system.

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