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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid