Voters Explain Their Support for “Dignity Coalition”

A photo of Seifeddine Makhlouf, spokesperson for the Dignity Coalition, posted on the official Facebook page of the Dignity Coalition on October 10, 2019.

In the October 6, parliamentary elections, the new “Dignity Coalition” [Itilaf al-Karama] managed to win 21 seats, according to preliminary results announced by the Independent High Independent Electoral Body. This gave the relative newcomer a fourth place finish, surprising pundits and trouncing more established parties like the Nidaa Tounes party and Tahya Tounes, the party of Prime Minister Youssef Chahed.

Formed in February 2019, the Dignity Coalition is a political alliance composed of several parties and independent figures, most notably the Tunisian Reform Front, the Congress for the Republic (CPR), and the Justice and Development Party. Its manifesto unites those who aim to advance the goals of the revolution, which it sees as uncompleted. “Karama”, or dignity, was one of the main slogans of the 2011 uprising.

Mohammed al-Ghaffari, 20, said he voted for the Dignity Coalition because of “its revolutionary spirit and lack of ties to the old system.”

The Dignity Coalition’s electoral program is “well organized and includes achievable goals,” Ghaffari told Meshkal.

Ghaffari, who was voting for the first time in his life, was persuaded to support the Dignity Coalition after attending a rally held by Seifeddine Makhlouf in Tataouine.

Seifeddine Makhlouf calls himself a spokesperson for the Dignity Coalition, but he is widely regarded as the group’s de facto leader.

Makhlouf is known for having represented terrorism suspects in legal cases, and his speeches have been described as “extremist” by his critics.  He ran for president in the 2019 presidential elections but was knocked out in the first round. He subsequently ran for parliament, and it appears he won a seat in the next parliament representing the Tunis 1 electoral district.

Makhlouf, 44, earned a master’s degree in criminology from the Faculty of Law and Political Science in Tunis, and became a lawyer in 2009. Since the 2011 uprising, Makhlouf has taken up several socially conservative causes, such as suing Nessma TV for broadcasting the film Persepolis—which includes a depiction of God. The showing had caused protests and alleged attempted vandalism.

Meteoric Rise

The Dignity Coalition performed particularly well in the southern governorate of Tataouine, where the unemployment rate among the youth is the highest in the nation. The coalition easily secured one of the four seats, coming in second after Ennahdha. The Dignity Coalition won 3,731 votes out of the 31,700 who turned up to vote in Tataouine on election day.

Signs of the Dignity Coalition’s rise have been evident in Tataouine since the first round of the presidential elections. In that vote, the Coalition’s de facto leader Makhlouf led the regional vote surpassing Abdelfattah Mourou, the candidate of Ennahdha, which has traditionally performed well in the region.

Amani Boujnah in Tataouine said she voted for Dignity Coalition because “in a short time, they managed to gather all the various revolutionary currents, with their various ideologies, into one unified coalition.”

Boujnah, 25, previously voted for Ennahdha in the 2014 legislative elections, but this time decided to vote for a new party which had a “stronger revolutionary sentiment.”

Meanwhile, 28-year-old Wassim Tijani said his decision to vote for the Karama coalition stems from his dismay at the “failure of major parties to improve the living conditions of citizens.”

Tijani told Meshkal that most of his peers also support the alliance, saying that it “evokes the sentiment of the street and speaks in clear language the people can understand.”

In contrast to Tijani who had never voted before, 32-year-old Mohamed Ben Gedian, was voting for the third time in his life these parliamentary elections. Each time he voted, he says he has chosen a different party.

Ben Gedian voted for the Congress for the Republic party in 2011 and for Nidaa Tunis in 2014, but decided to vote for the Dignity Coalition—even though he does not even know the name of its leader—because he heard good things about them from his family and friends.

Political analyst Slaheddine Jourchi told Meshkal that the Dignity Coalition has attracted some Ennahdha supporters, whose popularity has declined since its time in government.

“This alliance’s discourse is less open and pragmatic than Ennahdha and more closely related to religious thought, which is preferred by a sizable proportion of young people in Tunisia,” Jourchi told Meshkal.

Jourchi stressed that the Dignity Coalition is employing more “revolutionary rhetoric,” which was absent from politics during the last period, making it appear to be more committed to the principles of the revolution.

The Dignity Coalition announced last Thursday, October 10, that it had received an official invitation from Ennahdha, who won the most seats in the legislative elections, to discuss the possibility of forming a government together.