Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1135, 14 - 20 February
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1135, 14 - 20 February

Ahram Weekly

Troubles in Tunisia

Tunisia has been hit by political assassination and the potential end of the troika experiment in government, writes Lassaad Ben Ahmed in Tunis

Al-Ahram Weekly

Since 6 February, Tunisia has been experiencing events that could take the country back to square one after the ousting of former president Zein Al-Abidine bin Ali in the country’s Spring 2011 Revolution.

As well as the assassination of political activist Shokri Belaid, the leader of the leftist Democratic Patriots Party on 6 February, the troika experiment in government, a coalition made up of three of the country’s largest parties, is also facing exceptional challenges.

The grace period that the Congress for the Republic Party (CRP), the party of interim President Moncef Marzouki, gave to the ruling Al-Nahda Party has now expired, and the CRP has withdrawn from the cabinet of Prime Minister Hamadi Al-Jibali, who has also lost the support of his own Al-Nahda Party after he announced his intention to form a non-partisan technocratic government.

The aim of this, Al-Jibali said, would be to lead the country through what remains of the transitional phase, and members of the government would not run in the forthcoming Tunisian elections. Attempts to bring about reform had failed, Al-Jibali said, and there had been an increase of violence in the streets.

The turmoil has been an opportunity to attack private and public property and cause unrest in many cities and neighbourhoods. Community-based committees to protect neighbourhoods have also been revived, an unprecedented move since the first days of the revolution, because of the lack of security after the collapse of the former regime.

There have been many reports on social networks about the possibility of the army temporarily taking control to avoid a power vacuum if the government is dissolved and Al-Jibali fails to form a new cabinet.

The country is on the verge of serious disturbances following the assassination of Belaid, with Al-Nahda being widely blamed for the killing, along with the movement’s leader Rachid Al-Ghannoushi.

According to the Tunisian opposition, Al-Ghannoushi intends to drag the country into a cycle of violence because of Al-Nahda’s inflexible position regarding the cabinet reshuffle on the one hand and its leniency towards the extremist currents possibly behind Belaid’s assassination on the other.

The wife of Belaid said after the attack that Al-Ghannoushi had “plotted” the assassination of her husband, forcing Al-Ghannoushi to make statements that did not directly respond to the accusations but that declared that “there are those who want to divide Tunisians and want to see the Tunisian experiment fail by inciting hatred and exacerbating disputes.”

Some analysts said that it was not in Al-Nahda’s interest to assassinate its political adversaries, and that the culprits had not cared about the country’s fragile condition but had instead wanted to enflame the political conflict that has escalated in recent days because of the lack of consensus over forming a new government.

The journalist and Press Syndicate executive committee member Ziyad Al-Hani said that the Ministry of Interior, controlled by figures close to Al-Nahda, had planned to carry out a series of political assassinations starting with Belaid.

The Ministry of Interior called Al-Hani in for questioning, with the latter saying that the move had been an attempt to restrict the freedom of the press and an assault on media freedoms. The head of the Press Syndicate also went in for questioning of his own free will, but refused to reveal details of the investigations.

The Tunisia Call Party has also been accused on the social networks of being behind the assassination because Belaid had refused to join the party, especially after its leader, Al-Beji Caid Al-Sebsi, had called for the dissolution of the Tunisian Constituent Assembly, intervention by the army, and the formation of a national salvation government.

Some observers believe the assassination complicates matters for the Islamists. Belaid did not represent a threat to Al-Nahda in the upcoming elections, but he was a strong critic of the extremist Salafist groups and the Islamists overall.

He often accused Al-Nahda of being behind various incidents of violence and urged French intervention to protect Tunisia from the Islamists and what he called the “threat of Islam.”

People remember that Belaid did not place his hand on the Quran to take the oath when he was elected to office more than one year ago, and he did not turn up his palms to recite Quranic verses for the revolution’s martyrs at the first session of the Constituent Assembly.

Much Tunisian public opinion believes that seeking foreign support to achieve domestic political ambitions would be an act of betrayal and that France has no business interfering in Tunisian affairs, something echoed by the French diplomatic mission in Tunis after the recent events.

Tunisia has been an independent state since 1956, and French support of one political side over another would violate the will of the Tunisian people and the sovereignty of the state.

France was a close supporter of the ousted former president before the revolution, as was seen in the weapons shipment on its way to Tunisia during the revolution itself. France also downplayed the significance of the revolution, describing it as a passing “uprising”, and it has amplified the danger presented by the Salafist groups.

The next few days will see important developments in the investigation of Belaid’s assassination and the cabinet reshuffle. Al-Jibali has been able to gain the support of several major parties outside the troika, including the Republican Party, the Tunisia Call and Tunisian General Union of Workers.

However, he may not have the support of the Constituent Assembly, especially since his own Al-Nahda Party does not support his forming a non-partisan government.

Al-Nahda wants to continue the troika experiment based on quotas in appointing cabinet members. Al-Jibali said he may resign as prime minister, and there is a possibility that the government will be dissolved and someone else asked to form the new government.

A heated debate between politicians and jurists continued to prioritise national interests over electoral calculations this week, as well as the division of cabinet posts. However, Al-Nahda’s obstinate position could succeed in withdrawing confidence from Al-Jibali, leading the country into a downward spiral.

 

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