Essebsi Claims Victory in Tunisia’s Presidential Election

Exit polls show Essebsi, former parliament speaker under ousted President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, with around 55 percent of the vote.

Supporters of Tunisian former prime minister and presidencial candidate Beji Caid Essebsi celebrate the first results of the Tunisian elections on December 21, 2014 in Tunis. Tunisians voted in the runoff of the country's first free presidential election on Sunday, after authorities urged a big turnout to consolidate democracy following a chaotic four-year transition. AFP PHOTO / FETHI BELAID (Photo credit should read FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images)

Beji Caid Essebsi has claimed victory following Tunisia’s run-off presidential election. Exit polls show Essebsi, former parliamentary speaker under ousted President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, with around 55 percent of the vote. However, interim President Moncef Marzouki, a human rights activist and exile during the Ben Ali era, has refused to concede. The vote has marked the first time Tunisians have freely elected a president since independence from France in 1956, and it has been seen as a milestone in Tunisia’s democratic transition after the 2011 revolution. Election officials estimated turnout at around 59 percent. An Essebsi victory would allow him to consolidate power with his Nidaa Tounes party, which won parliamentary elections. Official results are expected to be released Monday.


After breaking the Islamic State siege on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq, Iraqi Kurdish and Yazidi forces are battling for the town of Sinjar. They have been joined by Kurdish fighters from Syria and Turkey, and supported by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes. Kurdish officials said the Peshmerga forces have seized a “large area” of Sinjar since launching an offensive against the militant group, which captured the area in August. If Kurdish forces take control of Sinjar, it would be a major strategic victory, enabling them to cut the highway from Syria to Mosul, a key supply route for the Islamic State. Meanwhile, coalition airstrikes targeted Islamic State positions on Sunday for the first time in the Madajen area north of the Syrian city of Aleppo.


  • Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE said they would not cut oil production, with Saudi Arabia saying the 40 percent fall in crude prices was largely due to the lack of non-OPEC
  • Jordan has hanged 11 men convicted of murder ending an eight-year moratorium on the death penalty.
  • Israel launched an airstrike on a Hamas target in Gaza Saturday for the first time since an August cease-fire, in what the Israeli military said was in retaliation for a rocket fired into southern Israel on Friday.
  • The United States has delivered 10 Apache helicopters to Egypt, while the Interior Ministry said security forces have detained nearly 10,000 people in the past year.
  • Libya’s Tobruk-based government attacked forces allied with the rival government, which is advancing in efforts to seize the country’s two largest oil ports.

Arguments and Analysis

Tunisia’s Elections: Old Wounds, New Fears’ (International Crisis Group)

“Fed by the occasionally incendiary rhetoric of the two candidates and their entourage, a number of national traumas repressed by years of dictatorship have resurfaced. The myth around the office of the head of state, forged by over a half-century of an all-powerful presidency, has returned in force and is exacerbating an ideological confrontation nurtured by old wounds: the brutal eradication of the Islamist movement under deposed President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali; violent conflicts dating from the independence era (between supporters of the first president, Habib Bourguiba, and those of his sworn enemy, Salah Ben Youssef); antagonisms between social classes; rivalries between established elites (from Tunis and the east coast) and emerging ones (from the south and the hinterland).

Moreover, the respective allies of Marzouki and Essebsi see their confrontation as another battle in a regional cold war, notably over the Islamist question. Tunisia is thus an echo chamber of the ideological conflicts that are shaking the region, from the Syrian trauma and the rise of the Islamic State in the Levant to the violent polarisation in Libya and Egypt. The concerns of all parties – over the return of dictatorship and repression on one side, or reinforcement of the north/south divide and the spread of chaos on the other – are being amplified by the national sensitivity to the fate of other countries of the ‘Arab Spring’.”

Guzzling in the Gulf’ (Jim Krane, Foreign Affairs)

“That old story is beginning to change. The Gulf monarchies have developed a growing taste for their chief export, which, if left unaddressed, could undermine both of their long-held roles: as global suppliers and as stable polities in an otherwise fractious Middle East. For the rest of the world, meanwhile, the potential loss of a key Gulf asset—spare oil production—foreshadows a period of greater market volatility and uncertainty.”

Pulling Libya Back from the Brink’ (Karim Mezran, Middle East Institute)

“Despite an encouraging communiqué by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) this week praising the commitment of the various Libyan parties to a dialogue, the continued postponement of the so-called Ghadames II peace talks does not bode well. Backed by external supporters, Libya’s warring factions appear to favor a military solution to the situation, rendering the crisis increasingly beyond repair. If the political vacuum and the chaos in the country continue, the environment will be conducive to the increasing formation of and infiltration by terrorist organizations within its borders, turning Libya into a safe haven for radical groups that may soon obligate the international community to intervene directly and aggressively. Meanwhile, innocent civilians are bearing the brunt of the conflict, with hundreds of thousands internally displaced and those stranded in neighboring countries losing hope of ever returning home.

It is thus time to prepare a robust plan of engagement. If the international community wishes to assist Libya in getting back on track toward a stable, pluralistic country, it should increase engagement by implementing targeted sanctions under UN Security Council Resolution 2174 against those individuals and entities that continue to engage in armed aggression.”

Mary Casey-Baker


<p>Mary Casey-Baker is the editor of Foreign Policy’s Middle East Daily Brief, as well as the assistant director of public affairs at the Project on Middle East Political Science and assistant editor of The Monkey Cage blog for the Washington Post. </p> Twitter: @casey_mary