Collapse of the troika?
A succession of resignations and growing social unrest may be threatening Tunisia's coalition government, writes Lassaad ben Ahmed in Tunis
Tunisia's so-called troika government, a coalition led by Islamist Al-Nahda Party Prime Minister Hamadi Al-Jebali, suffered another blow last week when Finance Minister Hussein Al-Dimasi resigned because of differences over the volume of welfare spending going to the needy and the rise in expenditure on subsidies.
Irrespective of the reasons given by Al-Dimasi in tendering his resignation and the attendant accusations made against Al-Jebali that he was deliberately inflating public spending in order to serve his party's electoral goals, the resignation has weakened the already divided troika cabinet.
Al-Dimasi's resignation also came amidst allegations that Al-Jebali was engaged in influence peddling and was making large payments to former prisoners held for political reasons under the rule of former Tunisian president Zein Al-Abidine bin Ali.
It came against the background of demands for a cabinet reshuffle and less than one month after the resignation of Mohamed Abdu, the minister responsible for administrative reform, and less than one week after the governor of the country's Central Bank, Mustafa Al-Nabli, was sacked and replaced by Al-Shadli Al-Eyari, known for his links to the former president.
In response to the news of Al-Dimasi's resignation, the government dismissed the former finance minister's complaints, accusing him of exaggeration and saying that the payment of assistance to poorer families and reparations to former political prisoners had been done with "absolute transparency".
However, for many observers the government's recent actions have been taking it ever further from the goals of last year's Tunisian Revolution, which led to the flight of Bin Ali and provided the spark for the subsequent uprisings of the Arab Spring.
The deadline of 23 July to submit a draft of a new constitution has been missed, and complaints are rising that the government has not effectively addressed social differences between regions or done enough to tackle unemployment.
Shortages of drinking water in many regions of the country before the start of Ramadan fuelled anger among many, and there have been sporadic episodes of unrest, for example in the town of Sidi Bouzid, the cradle of last year's revolution, last Friday.
Protesters in the town attempted to burn down governorate buildings and set fire to the regional offices of the Al-Nahda Party, apparently because of delays in paying workers.
Some members of the country's opposition have been calling for a "second revolution" because of the government's perceived failings, while others have demanded the formation of a national salvation government that would bring together representatives of all the country's political movements.
In a recent address on television, interim president Moncef Al-Marzouqi called for "broadening consensus" and for all the country's political players to participate in decision-making. Al-Nahda leader Rached Al-Ghannouchi has articulated similar sentiments, saying in recent statements that Al-Nahda is seeking the participation of all political personalities and reiterating its faith in the country's transition to democracy.
However, despite the official rhetoric people in the streets are less patient, and criticisms of the government have been becoming more and more frequent, with many accusing it of being too lenient in fighting corruption and allegedly protecting those responsible for squandering public funds under the regime of the ousted president.
The government has been accused of betraying the goals of the revolution even by some within the Al-Nahda movement, especially after the appointment of Al-Eyari as governor of the Central Bank.
Divisions within the troika government previously came to light when former Libyan prime minister Al-Baghdadi Al-Mahmoudi was extradited to face charges in his native country. The resulting uproar could have caused the government to collapse had it not been for the personal intervention of Al-Ghannouchi, who also supported the firing of Al-Nabli despite the latter's credentials.
It is becoming apparent that Al-Nahda may be facing serious challenges in remaining in control of the country, especially after the party lost its bid for making Tunisia into a parliamentary republic, other parties, among them the Congress Party and Coalition Party, both members of the ruling coalition, preferring a presidential regime.
Opposition to Al-Nahda rule is growing, notably after former prime minister Al-Baji Caed Al-Sebsi recently formed a new party, Tunisia's Call, that many observers believe may be the only party that can effectively take support from Al-Nahda. Some believe that Tunisia may now be witnessing the emergence of an opposition troika led by Al-Sebsi and his new party in partnership with the Republican Party and the Path Party.
However, while the country's political elite may be supportive of such moves, many Tunisians are still prepared to support Al-Nahda as the only party officially committed to protecting Tunisia's identity and religion, with Al-Nahda recently moving to close restaurants and cafés during Ramadan.