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

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More