News / Middle East

Tunisia's Political Transition at Crossroads

Demonstrators demand ouster of Islamist-dominated government during a protest outside the Constituent Assembly headquarters, Tunis, August 3, 2013.
Demonstrators demand ouster of Islamist-dominated government during a protest outside the Constituent Assembly headquarters, Tunis, August 3, 2013.
Mohamed Elshinnawi
Almost three years after the Arab Spring began, Tunisians are still struggling with their revolution. Political gridlock and violence have paralyzed the country, sending its economy into a tailspin ahead of planned national elections and the formation of a new government.
 
Tunisia’s transition from dictatorship to democracy seemed to be working at first.  The country conducted elections that led to a diverse and balanced National Constituent Assembly, formed a new coalition government under the leadership of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, which managed to rise above the usual Islamist/secularist disputes, and began drafting a new constitution setting the stage for new elections to conclude the transition.
 
But the assassination of opposition leader and Assembly member Mohamed Brahmi on July 25 dealt a shattering blow to the transition process. The killing was the second political assassination in six months, following the murder of left-wing politician Chokri Belaid. Both killings were blamed on the militant Salafi group, Ansar al-Shariah, which the government branded a terrorist organization.
 
Karim Mezran, resident North Africa expert at the Atlantic Council, said the violence has led to a political crisis.
 
“Ennahda, which governs in coalition with two smaller secular parties, is under increasing pressure from the opposition over an accusation that it is imposing an Islamist agenda, failing to deal with violent Salafi Islamists and mismanaging the economy,” Mezran said.
 
Mezran added that the National Salvation Front (NSF), an umbrella group of opposition parties led by the Nidaa Tounes party, which is demanding the government’s dissolution, is now emboldened by what they have seen in Egypt, where opposition protests led to the military’s ouster of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood government. But, he noted, the Tunisian army — unlike its Egyptian counterpart — has no tradition of political intervention.
 
Mohamed Sahbi Basly, who heads the al-Mustaqbal party, said another difference between Egypt and Tunisia is that in Egypt the army wields power. In Tunisia, he said, that role falls to the powerful Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), which undertook recent mediation efforts because it is the only national organization that could press parties toward consensus.
 
Ennahda leader Rashid Ghannouchi approved the mediation effort and held an unprecedented meeting with Kayed Essebsi, of the Nidaa Tounes party, previously shunned by Ennahda as a relic of Tunisia’s old order.
 
Mediation efforts center around a UGTT proposal that calls for a change of government following a national dialogue on the formation of a new cabinet and constitution. So far, however, the NSF umbrella group has refused the proposal for broader dialogue, saying it wants a non-partisan cabinet to oversee any national dialogue that takes place.
 
Tunisians want to avoid Egypt scenario
 
Emphasizing differences between Tunisian Islamists and opposition from their Egyptian counterparts, Mezran of the Atlantic Council said most Tunisians want to avoid the Egyptian scenario that has left hundreds dead and the country more polarized than ever.
 
“The Ennahda party is more popular, flexible and willing to compromise than the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt,” he said. “The Tunisian opposition has not been able to gather the masses that its Egyptian counterpart was able to mobilize, let alone the fact that the Tunisian army is neutral.”
 
Basly of the al-Mustaqbal party agreed that, unlike their counterparts in Egypt, Ennahda leaders seem willing to compromise.
 
“Tunisian society and political parties learned from the Egyptian scenario that continued polarization does lead to confrontation and violence, which will obstruct efforts to rejuvenate tourism as a major source for revenues,” he said. “So they will end up reaching a compromise instead.”
 
But, Basly said, this cannot be done quickly, and he predicts that elections will be delayed until March of next year to allow more time for a compromise.
 
Radwan Masmoudi, president of Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy in Tunisia, predicts an eventual agreement between Ennahda and the Nidaa Tounes party leading to a split in the opposition.
 
“Nidaa Tounes can strike a deal with Ennahda at the expense of the left-wing Popular Front especially if the two sides agree on the popular demand to form an independent non-partisan technocratic government to ensure fair elections and amendments to the drafted constitution that would guarantee a civil state” he said.
 
Mezran of the Atlantic Council said now nearly three years after their revolution, Tunisia is at a crossroads.
 
“Polarization could continue and politicians could resort to mobilize street demonstrations that eventually could turn into violence, or they could be wise enough to avoid the Egyptian scenario and reach a peaceful settlement to their political differences,” he said.

You May Like

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid