Tunis Elects Its First Female Mayor - From the Islamist Party

Souad Abderrahim, of the Ennahda party, has become the first female mayor of Tunis. Her victory has been celebrated as an advancement of women's rights in the Middle East

Souad Abderrahim, a candidate of the Islamist Ennahda party celebrates after being elected mayor of the city of Tunis, in Tunis, Tunisia July 3, 2018.
\ ZOUBEIR SOUISSI/ REUTERS

The Tunisian capital of Tunis has elected its first female mayor with the backing from an Islamist party.

Elected Tuesday, Souad Abderrahim, is the manager of a pharmaceutical firm and a militant women’s rights activist. Despite being a member of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, she does not wear a veil.

She defeated her rival, Kamel Idir, from the Nida Tounes party, founded by the current Tunisian president, Mohammed Ennaceur.

The first round of council elections took place in May, but only this week did the council elect a new mayor.

She is the only female winner of half a dozen other female Ennahda candidates who ran in the mayoral elections in, and around the Tunis region.

In recent years, Ennahda has worked to modernize the party's image, and in 2016 the party stated that it was separating religion from politics, thus trying to disassociate itself from the notion that political Islam was embodied by Islamist parties.

Abderrahim stated in an interview with the Associated Press that her first priority was to clean the city and plant trees. The city of Tunis has been suffering from the degradation of the waste disposable services since the 2011 Arab Spring. 

She dedicated her victory to all Tunisian women, and asserted that the Ennahda party would not compromise the advancements made in women’s rights, something which they had safeguarded by promoting female candidates in municipal elections.

Tunisia is the most advanced state among the Arab nations regarding women’s rights since gaining independence from France in 1956. However, Abderrahim’s election victory has not been without criticism.

During the May municipal council elections, secular party Nidaa Tounes’ communications’ officer, Foued Bousslama, stated that Abderrahim was not suited to become mayor because she was a woman, reports the Midlle East Eye: “"We are a Muslim country, unfortunately [] a woman cannot be an imam in a mosque, as she cannot be present on the eve of the 27th night of Ramadan in mosques. This is unacceptable”.

This refers to the Tunisian tradition of “Leylat al-Qadr”, the most holy night of Ramadan, where the mayor of the capital and other dignitaries including the President attend Tunis’ main mosque.

This sent shockwaves around Tunisian social media, as Nidaa Tounes represents itself as secular and modern. The party was quick to distance themselves from the rogue spokesperson. Mideast Eye reported that the party issued a press statement saying: "contrary to what Foued Bousslama declared, he doesn't occupy the post of communication officer" and, consequently, "the opinions he expresses are his own and do not reflect the official positions of the Nida Tounes party".