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

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations 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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs