News / Middle East

    Old Order 'Remnants' Flex Muscle in Tunisian Politics

    Reuters
    Step by step, the once-shunned officials of Tunisia's old order have returned to the political scene and are turning up the pressure on the governing Islamist party Ennahda to make way for them.
     
    So-called “remnants” from Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's rule were swept aside by the first of the “Arab Spring” revolts in January 2011 and trounced in voting for a constituent assembly later that year. The assembly has considered banning them from politics completely.
     
    But two murders of leftist leaders this year by suspected radical Salafis and mounting dissatisfaction with Ennahda's Islamist agenda have plunged Tunisian politics into turmoil, prompting the assembly to suspend its work.
     
    Since the second assassination in late July, ex-officials regrouped in new political parties have spoken out more openly and helped organize and fill the ranks of mass rallies to demand Ennahda step aside and allow new elections.
     
    It now looks likely that the proposed ban, which would shut about 30,000 “remnants” out of politics, will get lost in the political tumult and the opposition parties will emerge as a potentially strong challenger to Ennahda in the next election.
     
    “The ex-officials want to return under another flag,” said Tunis University professor Sami Brahmi, referring to about half a dozen parties where they are active. “They're the ones who are benefitting the most from what is happening.”
     
    Ennahda used to dismiss the “remnant” parties as a copy-paste of the old system and not worth talking to, but agreed to meet them after Egypt's ruling Muslim Brotherhood was toppled by the army last month following mounting popular protests.
     
    One major beneficiary is Beji Caid Essebsi, who was briefly  parliament speaker under Ben Ali and interim prime minister after he was ousted. Opinion polls give his party some 30 percent support, about equal with the Islamists.
     
    His pivotal role in solving Tunisia's crisis was confirmed last week when Ennahda chairman Rached Ghannouchi made a secret trip to Paris, where Essebsi was on a visit, to hold his first talks with the man the Islamists had until then shunned.
     
    Essebsi “has well and truly taken the role of master of ceremonies,” commented analyst Sofiane Ben Farhat.
     
    Another beneficiary is Kamel Morjane, defense and then foreign minister from 2005 until 2011. His party, smaller than Essebsi's, is the most active in defending former officials of Ben Ali's now banned Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD).
     
    Pragmatic secular modernisers
     

    The widely-used term “fuloul” (remnants in Arabic) is political shorthand for the pragmatic secular modernisers who worked as technocrats under Ben Ali and were not tainted by corruption or human rights violations during his rule.
     
    About a dozen of Ben Ali's closest collaborators were jailed on charges of corruption and abuse of power soon after his ouster. He escaped to Saudi Arabia with his family.
     
    Egyptians also speak of “fuloul” from the Mubarak years, but the army that deposed former President Mohamed Morsi is the main counterweight to the Islamists for power there.
     
    With Tunisia's non-political military staying firmly in its barracks, the real challenge to Ennahda comes from the secular opposition parties and the powerful Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), another strong critic of Ennahda.
     
    Essebsi's Nidaa Tounes, for example, includes former members of Ben Ali's RCD and leading businessmen from pre-revolution days, as well as progressive modernisers and trade unionists.
     
    Its platform on its website stresses democracy, jobs, social welfare and economic progress, goals the Islamists' critics say Ennahda has failed to reach. It makes no mention of Islam.
     
    Essebsi's new role was clear to see on Monday when Tunis newspapers ran a photograph showing him receiving a stiffly smiling Ghannouchi at his hotel in Paris.
     
    The picture was published alongside articles reporting that Ennahda, which until then had refused to consider their demands, was now ready to meet its critics without preconditions.
     
    Parties defending the former officials have also formed wider tactical anti-Islamist “fronts” with left-wingers who struggled against Ben Ali.
     
    Jilani Hamammi of the Workers Party, the former underground communist party, saw no problem working with “remnants” in a broad anti-Ennahda “Salvation Front”.
     
    “We are ready to work with anyone who can stop this religious dictatorship,” he said.
     
    The RCD was dissolved after Ben Ali was ousted in 2011 and the leading parties of the ex-officials, such as Essebsi's Nida Tounes (Call of Tunisia) or Morjane's Initiative, sprang up. Ennahda was banned under Ben Ali and legalized after he fell.
     
    Proud of his past
     
    In another come-back twist, Hamed Karoui, Ben Ali's prime minister from 1989 to 1999, was recently called in by President Moncef Marzouki to hear his views on solving the crisis.
     
    Karoui has been contacting fellow “Destourians”, followers of the secular moderniser Habib Bourguiba, who led Tunisia to independence from France in 1956 and ruled until 1987.
     
    Mohamed Jegham, head of the Al Watan (The Nation) party and one of many “remnants” in it, made no apologies for his past.
     
    “I worked with Ben Ali for 13 of the 23 years he was in power. I am proud of the contribution I made to the construction of this country,” said Jegham, who was defense and foreign minister in the 1990s and briefly commerce minister in 2011.
     
    Noting the development of infrastructure, industry and education before 2011, he asked: “Who did all this? It was us.”
     
    Jegham, whose party has linked up with others in the Destourian Front, said the anti-Islamists learned an important  lesson in 2011. “There were about 125 parties running in that election and they split the vote. We cannot continue like that.”

    You May Like

    Video How Aleppo Rebels Plan to Withstand Assad's Siege

    Rebels in Aleppo are laying plans to withstand a siege by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in likelihood the regime cuts a final main supply line running west of city

    Scientists Detect Gravitational Waves in Landmark Discovery

    Researchers likened discovery to difference between looking at piece of music on paper and then hearing it in real life

    Prince Ali: FIFA Politics Affected International Fixtures

    Some countries faced unfavorable treatment for not toeing political line inside soccer world body, Jordanian candidate to head FIFA says

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.