How campaigning (with Afek) from The Hague looked like, and some thoughts before the results

Today is election day in Tunisia, and in few hours the counting will start! I wanted to quickly share my experience before the results and before everyone starts bashing one party or another for whatever the results will be. Now, the hope for a government without Nahdha (or at least without Nahdha as a leader) is still on.
This post will have more  pictures and videos than usual as it is also for me a way to store somewhere what have been done from my side in these exciting weeks/months.
I got in touch with Afek Tounes in 2011, few weeks after its formation, to propose working on social business and social entrepreneurship as a crucial component of the local development in Tunisia. At that time, the concept was still uncommon and people were still confusing it with CSR. I had the opportunity later to work more substantially on a specific chapter about social economy (with very bold action plan, I must say), that is now available in the Afek Tounes 2014 Program.
I kept following remotely the party after the 2011 disaster, and its persisting efforts to transform and unite, through Aljoumhouri to what is now called Afek 2.0.  In August 2013, after discussing with Yassine Brahim, and understanding the reasons of the new split, I decided to more actively commit to a better alternative to the prevalent mediocrity in the Tunisian political arena. If people like Yassine Ayari and Ben Arfa allow themselves to act, then I should not be on the side watching. The problem is that I was based in the Hague, and I had to quickly find the right way to act. Whatever I will do, it is better than not trying at all. And I must say that Afek Tounes was full of people and leaders to help you act and support you. I still remember Kamel Ketari (Coordinator of international activities at that time) arriving to Amsterdam at 7 am with his flyers and ready to start the “cafe politique” I invited him to run.
afek tounes
I believe until June/July, most of my involvement was to (try to) raise funds, raise awareness about Afek Tounes project, helping design the right strategy for our “Tunisian abroad” actions, and developing partnerships with like-minded  organizations in Netherlands like D66 and Young Democrats. Writing “my part” of the vision (social economy, financial inclusion) and the program took also many weeks ( I am not surprised that the overall result is very good and reflect to a big extent the hard work of the various teams who were involved in drafting the vision with a realistic action plan during more than a year).
Actually, until early summer, it was still unclear for members like me, whether we will have separate Afek lists abroad. Hopes of unified fronts and lists were still on. Various discussions I had with other Afek Tounes activists highlighted the willingness not to “divide the democratic family”. “We will only focus on areas where we can realistically expect seats” was a common remark. At a couple of trainings and presentations I attended in Tunis, they presented a nice scorecard with the electorate and the regions to focus on, while actively starting the hand-on work of knocking on doors and directly discussing with the Tunisian voters across the country. The party was already setting the tone that the 2014 campaign and practices will be different. But there was also a movement across the party making the case for more “self confidence” and more “ambition” to believe in ourselves and present lists in as many areas as possible. This wishful thinking, combined with a stubborn rejections from other players (such as Joumhouri, Tahalof, who simply started a separate group in the assembly, and Nidaa) to act jointly,  resulted in the high number of Afek candidates and lists, side in side with other very like minded parties.
Seeking united lists is acknowledging upfront that you have little chance, that you cannot make it, that you are not popular, that you don’t believe in your own people, that you alternative is not viable. Starting a separate list conveys the totally opposite message: you too, can do it! It is exciting, it is challenging, the hope is on! And what would you risk at the end: a disappointment mixed with a nice feeling that you have done your best. Imagine 20 separate lists for one seat: you will have 20 leading candidates, 20 campaign directors, 20 spokespersons, maybe more than 100 people feeling they are having an impact, feeling they have an access to something important soon. It is difficult to exchange this for the frustrating process of presenting one list. It is like asking 20 tech startups dreaming of the big exit, to merge. Especially when you REALLY assume you can do well.
But once the decision is made, once everyone is officially believing in it, once you feel the momentum, you just have to do your best ( and stop arguing and analysing “wait, where did the nice scorecard go?” which always feel weird).  I have seen many doing their best: distributing flyers in the markets from early morning, helping testing out a new platform at 2 am,  organizing successful meetings while working full-time, coming up with new ideas, working non-stop to help convey the message: we are a credible and  serious alternative, we are young, you need us to positively influence the transition process, we are your “smart” choice.
From my end, I initiated/facilitated the main following actions, always welcomed with enthusiasm and commitment by my fellow Afek friends:
– The first webinar by a Tunsian party to connect with Tunisians abroad and directly answer questions. This was risky on every level, but participants happily took up the challenge.
With Yassine Brahim, Mohammed Ghannem and Kamel Ketari

With Bassem Bouguerra an Hichem Ben Fadhl

webinarpic
– Exchange with Dutch parties, with the Young Democrats delegation from Netherlands going to witness the Tunisian Elections (pictured here with Yassine Brahim, thanks Zakia!) .
young democrats
That was not much, but I hoped it helped in a way convey the message of Afek, improve its reputation further, and convince some to vote for it!
It was not much, but it took many days of work and gave me direct exposure to what was done within the organization, which only reinforced my respect for the people doing the “real” campaign on the ground.
It goes without saying that the experience has been very good, that new friendships has been made, with a strong reassurance that honest and motivated young people are still committed to a positive change in Tunisia. Now I hope that the efforts made by the members across towns will pay off, that the campaign worked!
Few thoughts before I finish this lengthy post:
– Asking people to vote FOR a project, instead of AGAINST one has been a bold message, but a natural one for a party who claims to offer a new way of doing politics in the Tunisian “Jurassic Park”. However, dismissing totally the risk of dispersion, the impact of it, and the strong anti-nahdha sentiment that drives a substantial part of our electorate was a little too much I found at some occasions. Better risk analysis (and less confirmation bias) and monitoring of Nahdha would have helped. For those who understand Arabic, this is what I wrote in September.
status
 
 
– 1+1 does not equalt 2 in politics but 1+1+1+1+1+1 does equal 0, so whatever are the results ( we expect between 8 and 16 seats) Afek Tounes should work hard on strengthening the “third party position” and joining other parties.  It will only show maturity and care for the future.
– For those who will be disappointed by the result , do not leave the ship as you did in 2011 and bear with us for the next 5 years…
Looking forward to the next challenge, thank you for every single person who helped during the pass weeks, special thoughts to the candidates and the headquarter staff …. and all the best!
Hatem

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