TUNISIA: New poll shows concern about economy, division over religion
Tunisians are optimistic about the future of their country but remain concerned about the economy and deeply divided on the role religion should play in politics, a new poll finds.
The study, commissioned by the Washington-based International Republican Institute, claims to be the first independent opinion poll since the fall of former President Zine el Abidine ben Ali. It comes at a critical juncture for Tunisia.
On July 24, Tunisians are expected to vote for a national assembly that will be responsible for rewriting the constitution and determining crucial elements of the political system, such as the distribution of powers within the government and whether to legally separate matters of religion and state.
According to the poll, 79% of respondents said Tunisia is going in the right direction, despite the fact that 66% categorized the economy as somewhat or very bad. Job creation topped the list of priorities respondents said the interim government should be pursuing, followed by free and fair elections and stimulation of the economy.
However, respondents were sharply divided on the role religion should play in politics, with 48% saying they were in favor of a political system based on religion and 44% preferring a secular system. Among those, 27% said they felt the Tunisian political system should be "strongly" secular and 21% said it should be "strongly" based on religion. Urban respondents were more likely than their rural counterparts to support a secular system, as were younger respondents over older ones.
The poll's results appear to strengthen comparisons between Tunisia and Turkey, which has achieved mixed results with its attempts to blend a secular political system with the Islamic values shared by many Turks.
-- Meris Lutz in Beirut
Photo: A wave of popular protests driven partially by economic woes forced former President Zine el Abidine ben Ali from power earlier this year. Credit: AFP/Getty Images