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New Cabinet Vote Set Amid Tunisia Unrest

Political unrest gripped Tunisia following the February 6 assassination of opposition leader Chokri Belaid. (VOA)

Political unrest gripped Tunisia following the February 6 assassination of opposition leader Chokri Belaid. (VOA)

Tunisia continues to grapple with political uncertainty since last month's assassination of leftist leader Chokri Belaid, which brought down the government of Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali.

Belaid was gunned down outside his home on February 6 and protests continue on the streets of Tunis ahead of Tuesday's parliament vote on a new cabinet line-up.

Some of the protesters outside the interior ministry are convinced that the Islamist Ennahda party, which has been ruling the country in coalition with two smaller secular center-left parties, is in some ways responsible for the slaying.

“After the death of our comrade Chokri Belaid, we say the assassination of our comrade," said one protester. "We believe that the government killed Chokri Belaid.”

Ennahda leaders deny any involvement in the killing and the security services have arrested several militant Islamists, known as Salafists, in connection with the slaying, although government officials say the actual assassin is still at large.

Belaid’s murder plunged Tunisia into its worst political crisis since the Arab Spring ouster of autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali more than two years ago .

To calm the crisis after Jebali's government was brought down, his Ennahda successor announced a new cabinet on Friday, handing over key ministries to independent figures.

The cabinet reshuffle, which has Ennahda yielding control of the ministries of justice, interior and foreign affairs, will likely be approved by the national assembly on Tuesday.

But Ennahda’s failure to persuade other opposition parties to join the governing coalition highlights the political divisions complicating Tunisia’s transition to democracy.

Most opposition leaders accept that Ennahda itself did not have a hand in Belaid’s slaying. But they accuse Ennahda of ignoring Salafist threats against the leftist leader’s life and they believe the party is fanning violence, says leftist politician Adman Besheer.

“The government had no role in the assassination," Besheer says. "But the government is responsible for the violence that is spreading all over the country and from this point the government is politically responsible, letting preachers in mosques and in certain religious parts preaching violence and in this matter the government is really responsible.”

Distrust of Ennahda remains high, says university professor Jelel Ezzine. “Ennahda, even though it tried, did succeed to some extent to convince the West that it is really a moderate democratic Islamist movement, what is really going on in Tunisia today does not really go along with that image.”

Tuesday's vote on the new cabinet lineup is unlikely to calm the fears of Ennahda opponents, but the concessions at least hold out the possibility that Tunisia’s political crisis may ease, if only temporarily.