Muslim political party picks Jewish man for candidacy in Tunisian municipal election

The Tunisian Ennahda Party has made history in this northernmost African country by nominating its first Jewish candidate for public office. But in its effort to present itself as a liberal and modern party, Ennahda has sparked controversy in the mostly Muslim Mediterranean nation.

While Simon Salama lacks political experience or public prominence of any kind up to this point, the son of a sewing machine repairman is grateful for the support from Ennahda, admitting that he would have run under any party that supported him.

As reported by Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Salama wishes only to “serve the public of Monastir,” the largest city in the Monastir Governorate of Tunisia.

Ennahda first received legitimacy as a major political party when it won a majority in the Tunisian Assembly in the 2011 Arab Spring. In what is regarded as a highly volatile period in the North African/Arab region, Tunisia stands as the only country to peacefully undergo a regime change.

Some, including former Ennahda activist Sheikh Khamis al-Majari, say such an action “flies in the face of Islamic law.”

It still remains unclear what support Salama will be able to garner for one of the 7,182 municipal seats that nearly 57,000 candidates will tussle over. The country's roughly 2,000 Jews, most of whom live on the island of Djerba in the Gulf of Gabès, off the Tunisian coast, still face persecution.

In January, The Associated Press reported that Tunisian authorities had detained five people suspected of throwing Molotov cocktails at two synagogues in Djerba, including one that's 2,500 years old. The same synagogue was targeted in a 2002 extremist attack.

Municipal elections will take place in May, in what could be a historic day for the Arab nation.