Tunisia
Tunisia's election process began in October with a vote for parliament.
PHOTO: FADEL SENNA/AFP/Getty Image

Story highlights

Tunisia's historic elections are the sole point of hope for Arab democracy, analysts say

The Economist names Tunisia "country of the year"

Long-time politician Beji Caid Essebsi beats outgoing President Moncef Marzouki

(CNN) —  

It’s widely considered the only place in which seeds planted during the “Arab Spring” may have grown into the first sprouts of democracy. And now, Tunisia officially has a new president-elect.

Long-time politician Beji Caid Essebsi won the country’s runoff with about 55% of the vote, beating outgoing President Moncef Marzouki’s 44%, state-run media reported Monday.

It was a hard-fought race. On Sunday, despite earlier indications Essebsi had won, supporters of Marzouki rallied in downtown Tunis.

Security forces responded to rock-throwing rioters by firing tear gas to quickly disperse the crowds, state-run media reported.

As a candidate, Essebsi promised to restore the state’s prestige after the chaotic years since the 2011 revolution, when the country’s dictator, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was ousted. But Marzouki warned that Essebsi would bring back authoritarian policies.

Inside Ben Ali’s palace: Fake diplomas, sports cars, stuffed leopard

The fact that the elections – considered legitimate – took place at all is historic.

The election process began in October with a vote for parliament. “At a time when hopes of moving towards political reform and accountable governments elsewhere in the Arab world have been dashed, Tunisia is the only country where the aspirations of the Arab uprisings may yet be fulfilled in the near future,” Anthony Dworkin of the European Council on Foreign Relations wrote at the time.

On Saturday, The Economist declared Tunisia its “country of the year.”

“The idealism engendered by the Arab spring has mostly sunk in bloodshed and extremism, with a shining exception: Tunisia,” the magazine wrote. “… Its economy is struggling and its polity is fragile; but Tunisia’s pragmatism and moderation have nurtured hope in a wretched region and a troubled world. Mabrouk, Tunisia!” ("Mabrouk” is a way of saying “congratulations” in Arabic.)

Fast Facts: Tunisia

The revolutions that spread throughout the Arab world began in Tunisia when a poor 26-year-old who could not find a job had a run-in with police and then set himself on fire in front of a government building in December 2010.

CNN’s Margot Haddad, Salma Abdelaziz and Kay Guerrero contributed to this report.