BBC Focus on Africa magazine

The following article on the Tunisian and Egyptian elections was published in the Jan-March 2012 Focus on Africa magazine It is perhaps no exaggeration to say that events in Tunisia in early 2011 changed the world. The so-called Jasmine Revolution there, which culminated in the ousting of the country’s longstanding President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, is widely credited with kick-starting similar pro-democracy movements elsewhere in North Africa. At the time of going to press, Egypt was on the verge of landmark parliamentary elections – the first since the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak. But the Egyptian experience has so far proved quite different to the widely-praised Tunisian vote. Just days before the poll (due to start on 28th November), violence erupted again in Tahrir Square – at least thirty eight protestors, who had been calling for the military government to step aside, were killed in clashes with police. Although it looked likely that the vote would still take place, the deaths are likely to cast a shadow over[C1]  what should have been a celebratory event. “We expect the vote to go ahead” says Les Campbell, head of the Middle East and North Africa region at the National Democratic Institute (NDI), in Cairo for the election. “The polling places have been made public and election officials are getting materials in place. But confusion about procedures is rampant and the current unrest on the streets could dampen turnout”. The symbolism of Tunisia’s peaceful election for a constitutional assembly has been hard to follow. The NDI, based in the United States, called the October 23rd vote an ‘extraordinary achievement’; the 180-strong European Union observer mission, based in Tunisia for several months, said it was ‘transparent on every level’. The vote came at an historic time for the Arab world – as journalists
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