Tunisian election brings promise to Middle East

In Tunisia, millions are spearheading a most historic moment in the Middle East: the first vote of the Arab Spring.

Ten months ago, Tunisia was the first nation to spark the Arab Spring movement with street protests and riots, which eventually ousted the former president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali from his 23-year reign. On Sunday, millions of Tunisians once again led the movement in casting their votes for a 218-seat assembly that would draft their country’s new constitution.

For the first time in a long time, men and women stood in long lines winding their way to the polls, holding out for hours if they needed.

The turnout of registered voters at the polls was approaching close to 70 percent and even exceeded 80 percent at some districts, according to the head of the independent election commission three hours prior to closing polls. In comparing this to the average turnout we’ve seen in our past (61.6 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot for U.S. president in 2008),this demonstrates a great deal: Tunisians are eager to give their input.

And in the face of other news making headlines from the Middle East, including Libya’s declaration of liberation Sunday, the Arab Spring really is ushering — in the words of President Barack Obama — “a new era of promise.”

We may be uncertain of the Arab Spring’s future: Tunisians chose among about 11,000 candidates and over 110 political parties,old and new, secular and Islamist. Libyans also share the task of figuring how to proceed in the wake of an overthrown dictator. Syrians, Bahrainis and those of other nations continue the struggle for similar success as seen by their counterparts.

There’s still work to be done, but the impact Tunisia’s vote will have on the Arab world is inestimable. As best said by a Tunisian citizen waiting to vote, “The whole Arab world is watching.”