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The smell of petrodollars in the Tunisian elections

Israeli media have reported a meeting in Paris between Tunisian presidential candidate Beji Caïd Essebsi and officials from Gulf States. The meeting is alleged to have focused on ways to isolate the Nahda Party in Tunisia and how to keep the Islamist group from gaining any central positions in the upcoming government. The Gulf officials discussed ways to isolate and demonise the Islamic party within civil society so that politicians in Tunisia can attack Al-Nahda in a way not dissimilar to the demonisation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The visit of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and the French presidency's change of tone towards Tunisian politics all suggest the veracity of these reports, which also claim that Gulf States have committed to donating seven to ten billion dollars in an attempt to ensure the success of the Essebsi project in Tunisia.

If this information is accurate, the consequences of such political manoeuvres could prove to be dangerous not only to Tunisia but also to those countries in the Gulf which are meddling in the second round of the country's presidential elections. Such actions risk the rebellious mobilisation of Tunisians in the south of the country, who have been deprived of participation in political life; their quality of life is poor compared to that of their fellow citizens in the north and west of Tunisia, and they may rise up if they find themselves under the rue of Essebsi.

The consequences for the Gulf countries if they continue with their interference in Tunisian affairs could include the disruption of investment and social stability, but no possibilities should be ruled out. I hope that members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) will not dare to claim that their countries are immune to unrest, for this is not true. Observers in both Tunis and Paris say that it is obvious that money has been used to influence the elections, especially in the north-west, where the people voted in favour of Essebsi. Many claim that this section of the population has lived in the government's blind-spot and in a state of poverty for decades; it is quite easy, therefore, to see how such a region would be influenced by political bribes, an outcome that works in Essebsi's favour.

Terrorism has become the whip with which one can threaten opponents in most Arab countries. To take revenge on your opponent, one need only to accuse them of terrorism or of belonging to a jihadi religious current, salafi Islam or any other affiliation that creates fear among the people. Thus it was that Essebsi accused any citizen who voted in favour of his opponent, Moncef Marzouki, of affiliation with religious extremists. This not only panicked the population but also makes people reluctant to vote for Marzouki in the second round. The first to hear and heed this accusation was the French government, which has been overly preoccupied with the general direction of Tunisian politics. Essebsi's claims have gone so far as to encourage the French to change their official position towards Tunisian politics by categorising any of Marzouki's voters as "Islamists".

Those of us who are committed observers of the democratic process in Tunisia have followed the presidential election with our hands on our hearts for Tunisia's fate if outsiders continue to meddle in its affairs. We fear that Tunisians will be forced to return to a political reality that resembles that of Ben Ali's dictatorship; for that, we resent attempts to isolate Al-Nahda Party and prevent it from participating in politics. The party's supporters call on Essebsi to be neutral in the next round of the election because it is among the largest players in the Tunisian political arena and its members have suffered many years in prison, where many were tortured. It is important to note that the National Union Bloc has announced that it will not remain neutral in the upcoming vote and that it will focus its efforts on supporting a particular candidate.

Let me end by saying that I wish Tunisia security and stability above all else, and also that it will steer clear of any bad luck that may be coming its way. I also hope that Tunisian citizens and their interests will be preserved above all else.

Translated from Al-Araby Al-Jadid, 1 December, 2014

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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