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Secularists voice dismay at election gains for Tunisia's Islamist party

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“[Among the secularists and youth,] some are insulting one another – it's your fault, it's your fault – some are angry at the international media [for focusing on Al Nahda],” the author of the blog Masseri [My Destiny], who writes about women's rights and helped organized street protests in January, says during an interview. A self-proclaimed modernist, she began writing anonymously after receiving numerous threats.

“Others are circulating proof of fraud,” she continued, describing videos that began to circulate on Facebook by Monday evening. The alleged violations included some polling agents stealing ballots, vote buying both before and on election day, and unfair pressure exerted on voters already in the queue to vote. Between 300 and 400 secular-leaning protesters had gathered in front of the electoral commission by 4 p.m. today, demanding a response to alleged misconduct.

“We are not here against any party, we are against the electoral violations that we saw committed by Al Nahda,” says Myriam Marzouki, a protester who served as an electoral observer. She says that her polling station gave preference to Al Nahda voters by allowing some who were ineligible to cast votes. “The president [of the polling station] saw the violations but said he didn't want to have any problems.”

Others at the protest, however, were more clearly frustrated with the results of the vote. “We're not happy with what happened with Al Nahda,” says Salma, a civil servant at the protest who declined to give her last name out of concern that her comments could have an impact on her work. “They utilized religion just in order to win seats. But if [Rached] Ghannouchi [the leader of the Islamist party] is our leader, it will be a war among the Tunisians.”

Other young secular activists declined to attend the protests, arguing that what was truly needed was political organization to unite the many disparate parties opposing Al Nahda. The youth supporters of all the secular parties are planning to meet next week to discuss how they can unite the various party supporters toward a common political agenda, says Ali of the Union of Independent Tunisians for Liberty.

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