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Shock as the battle for Tunisian president comes down to two mysterious men

Tunisia’s political elites and establishment were in shock following the first round of the Presidential election. By now the outcome is well known – Kaïs Saïed (aka “Robocop”) and media mogul and charity phenomenon Nabil Karoui won 18.4% and 15.6% of the vote, respectively. As such, they are the final two candidates that the people of Tunisia will pick from to be their president.

Both president and parliament are likely to be voted on in October.

The office of president comes with much power – the winner will be in charge of defense, foreign policy and national security. So, who are these two men, and what is the difference between them?

Nabil Karoui

Karoui is in his 50s and no stranger to suffering and tragedy despite his riches. He lost his son in a car crash and set up a charity in his name to alleviate poverty and suffering. This has won him many fans amongst the poor and charitable – but brought him some accusations for trying to hide bad behavior behind the mask of charity. He became a media tycoon in the 90s and owned a TV station.

He seems to be for free speech – having aired a movie on his TV station and having to go to court for it. He was let off lightly with a fine. He is now in jail and under investigation for alleged money laundering since August 23. If the political establishment of Tunisia were plotting to keep Karoui out of the spotlight by jailing him, it seems to have backfired spectacularly, actually catapulting him to fame above a crowded primary election field of more than twenty candidates.

Amnesty International have also supported him in the past, putting some legitimacy to his status as pro free-speech and liberty. It cannot be said that Karoui was always challenging the system – he only recently left late President Beji Caid Essebsi’s Nidaa Tounes party.

Kaïs Saïed

Saied is just over 60 years old and a constitutional law professor. He is mocked for talking in a monotone voice with near-perfect classical Arabic dialect. However, despite this he has earned a large amount of admiration from people who like his anti-corruption stance and what the western media are quick to call “conservative views”.

While many people associate “conservative” with capitalism and liberty, Saied’s conservatism is more about respecting the traditional. For example, he is in favor of the death penalty, and against gender equality when it comes to inheritance law. In one newspaper interview he said homosexuality was financed by countries other than Tunisia. These views are unlikely to win him many friends and trade partners on the global stage.

What about Parliament?

There is also a vote for Parliament and this is important as it will keep the President accountable. As anti-establishment views are popular right now, could the Tunisian Green Party see a swing in support? The party president is Abdelkader Zitouni – a football referee that rejected a left-wing coalition party because they were too controlling. He is a strong spirit with an eye for a fair game.

What next?

With unemployment is at 15 percent and the cost of living up by almost a third since 2016, it is perhaps no wonder many in Tunisia did not vote and turnout was at around 45%. Whatever your opinion of these men, it is important to vote and have your voice heard. Tunisia holds its breath as the elections approach.


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