Date :Friday, November 21st, 2014 | Time : 22:52 |ID: 14032 | Print

Football and politics linked in Tunisia

SHAFAQNA- On Wednesday, the African Nations Cup match between Egypt and Tunisia, which the latter won 2-1, provided a welcome break from politics ahead of the country’s presidential elections.

In fact, the break was not just from the Sunday elections themselves — regarded as the first democratic, presidential polls in Tunisia’s history — but rather from media outlets who have continuously hosted the candidates on their screens.

Streets in the capital Tunis were almost empty of people during the 90-minute match as locals gathered in cafés to watch the game on huge screens. “This is a warrior’s rest from speeches of politicians,” Ali Hazeely, a cafe owner in the capital’s Al-Basaj district, told Ahram Online.

Kamal Al-Sharni, a Tunisian political analyst, believes that the numbers of viewers watching interviews with presidential contenders on both public and private channels has exceeded the figures even for Ramadan television serials.

“It seems the Egypt-Tunisia football game was followed by the public as much as TV interviews with presidential candidates,” Sharni said.

One connection between football and politics in Tunisia is seen with the head of Club Africain, Saleem Riahi, a presidential candidate and wealthy businessman who is often described as “Tunisia’s Berlusconi.”

He criticised the administration of prominent local club Etoile Sahel during a recent television interview and as a result, his campaign banners were torn down by Etoile Sahel fans in the capital and in the central-eastern Al-Sahel area, especially in Sousa city.

Meanwhile, Slim Chiboub, the son-in-law of Tunisia’s ousted president Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali, has recently returned to the north African country for the first time after the revolution.

Expected to stand trial for nine cases of financial corruption, Chiboub is the former head of the Esperance club. Supporters of the club, the most popular in Tunisia, welcomed him warmly at the airport.

Some speculation suggest that Chiboub will mobilise Esperance supporters behind presidential candidate Beji Caid Essebsi, the head of the Nidaa Tounes party which won the most seats in the recent legislative elections.

Opponents of Essebsi claim that he used his political influence to guarantee a safe return for Chiboub days before the elections in a bid to negatively influence the chances of Riahi. Nidaa Tounes was founded in January 2012 by Essebsi after the 2011 anti-Ben Ali uprising.

The party combines former members of ousted president Ben Ali’s Constitutional Democratic Rally, secular leftists, progressive liberals and Destourians (followers of Tunisia’s first president Habib Bourguiba). Nidaa’s inclusion of some former associates of Ben Ali was criticised by some as providing a back door for members of the former regime to return to political life.

Tunisia finalised its parliamentary elections last month, with 69 percent of Tunisians casting their vote, according to Al-Asaad Ibn Ahmed, head of the Independent High Electoral Commission.

Secularists Nidaa Tounes gained 85 seats (38.24 percent) in the 217-seat assembly, while the Islamist Ennahda movement came in second with 68 seats (31.33 percent).

Five out of 27 candidates have withdrawn from Tunisia’s presidential elections, leaving 22 to compete in Sunday’s polls.

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