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

French Refugee Drama Wins Cannes Top Prize

Dheepan is about a group of Sri Lankan refugees who pretend to be a family in order to flee their war-torn country for a housing project in France More

Photogallery Crisis in Macedonia Requires Meaningful and Swift Measures

The international community has called on Macedonian leadership to take concrete measures in support of democracy in order to exit the crisis More

Activists: IS Executes 217 Civilians, Soldiers Near Palmyra

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Sunday said the victims include nurses, women, children and Syrian government fighters 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs