Tunisian President-elect’s Focus on Security Has Some Worried

Beji Caid Essebsi ran for president on a promise to eradicate terrorism and restore security.

The message resonated with voters, driving him to victory in the runoff on Sunday in Tunisia’s first presidential election since independence in 1956, a contest that international observers deemed free and fair.

But some supporters of his rival, Moncef Marzouki, and activists say the president-elect’s emphasis on security and state prestige is a sign that hard-won freedoms of the past few years will be rolled back.

“I’m expecting more repression in the name of fighting terrorism,” said Alaa Talbi, executive director of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights.

Mr. Essebsi said during his campaign that his opponent had been mostly supported by Islamists, including radicals waging a low-level insurgency in the border regions. He didn’t offer evidence to back up his claim, and Mr. Marzouki denied the accusation

The accusation was emblematic of his successful campaign, in which the 88-year-old politician called on his background as a minister under the authoritarian regimes of Tunisia’s first president, Habib Bourguiba, and longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Mustapha Benahmed, an executive board member and parliament member from Mr. Essebsi’s party Nida Tunis, said his party didn’t intend to revive the repressive policies of Mr. Ben Ali. He said Mr. Essebsi and Nida Tunis are uniquely positioned to manage Tunisia after years of political instability.

“We are a party of statesman, not a party of the old state,” he said.

Tunisia is the only country to emerge from the Arab Spring with a largely peaceful democratic transition. The country, however, faces a faltering economy and a lack of reforms of security and judicial authorities.

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Posted in Africa, Politics Risk