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

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid