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 VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Kurdish service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

Russian Anti-Corruption Campaigner Slams Putin’s Crackdown on Dissent

In interview with VOA Alexei Navalny says he believes new law against 'undesirable NGOs' part of move to keep Russian president in power More

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs