News / Middle East

Tunisian Islamists Accept Union Plan to Resolve Crisis

Hussein Abassi, head of Tunisia's UGTT union federation, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Tunis, Aug. 16, 2013.
Hussein Abassi, head of Tunisia's UGTT union federation, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Tunis, Aug. 16, 2013.
Reuters
Tunisia's governing Islamists edged closer to negotiations with secular opponents on Thursday by agreeing in principle to a plan for a transition toward new elections proposed by the powerful trade unions.

The birthplace of the Arab Spring revolts, Tunisia is struggling to defend its nascent democracy against political polarization and popular discontent, especially after Egypt's army ousted another elected Islamist leader, Mohamed Morsi.

Rached Ghannouchi, chairman of the Islamist Ennahda party, said negotiations would quickly resolve the standoff that has paralyzed Tunisian politics for almost a month and led to major protests and calls for the government to resign.

“We will get out of this crisis very soon,” Ghannouchi told journalists after meeting UGTT Secretary General Hussein Abassi. “We accept the UGTT initiative in principle to begin the dialog” with the opposition.

Opposition leaders accused Ghannouchi of trying to buy time and repeated their demand that Ennahda give up power. The party later said in a communique it would stay on until the planned dialog reaches a consensus on holding free and fair elections.

“Ennahda is looking for an honorable exit from the crisis to avoid a fate like that of the Islamists in Egypt,” said political analyst Noureddine Mbarki. “This decision comes after many international interventions, especially from Europe.”

Both the Islamists and the opposition agree on the need for new voting once work on a long-delayed new constitution is completed, which could happen in the next few months. But the opposition does not trust Ennahda to hold a free and fair vote.

Ennahda, which governs in coalition with two smaller secular parties, is under increasing pressure from the opposition over accusations that is imposing an Islamist agenda, failing to deal with violent Salafi Islamists and mismanaging the economy.

Sacrifices from Ennahda

The UGTT trade union federation, which is mediating between Ennahda and its critics, has proposed the government step down and let a neutral interim cabinet prepare new elections. Ennahda had rejected this in the past but changed course this week.

“The situation in the country demands sacrifices from Ennahda,” UGTT chief Abassi said after the meeting, which came a day after he consulted with opposition parties on their stand.

“Ghannouchi has accepted the UGTT's initiative but he has a few conditions and propositions for starting the dialog which we will present to the opposition,” he said.

“We must find a way out of this crisis quickly because the country cannot wait. This could increase our economic difficulties,” Abassi said.

Tunisia voted on October 23, 2011 for a constituent assembly which was to write a new constitution within a year, a deadline it failed to keep because of protracted wrangling between the Islamists and the secular opposition parties.

Four months were spent on debate just about whether to mention sharia, the Islamic legal and moral code, in the constitution. Ennahda finally agreed to leave it out.

Specter of Egypt's violence

Critics say that although it was only supposed to be a transitional cabinet, the Ennahda-led body behaved as if it were a fully elected government and quickly filled many jobs in the national and local administration with Islamists.

Ennahda's turnabout came after the second killing of a leftist leader by suspected Islamist radicals in late July and the specter of the violence and bloodshed following the end of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt.

Although talk of a possible coup made the rounds in Tunis last month, the Tunisian army - unlike its Egyptian counterpart - has no tradition of political intervention.

The million-strong UGTT (Tunisian General Labor Union) undertook its mediation effort because it is the only national organization that could press the parties towards a consensus.

You May Like

Tunnel Bombs Highlight Savagery of Aleppo Fight

Rebels have used tunneling tactic near government buildings, command posts or supply routes to set off explosives; they detonated their largest bomb this week under Syria's intelligence headquarters More

Sierra Leone Launches New Initiative to Stop Ebola Spread

Government hopes Infection and Prevention Control Units, IPC, will help protect patients and healthcare workers More

UN Official: Fight Against Terrorism Must Not Violate Human Rights

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says efforts by states to combat terrorism are resulting in large scale rights violations against the very citizens they claim to defend More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boyi
X
Jeff Seldin
March 05, 2015 2:36 AM
A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960s Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

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