Tunis — which triggered the Arab Spring two years ago — today is confronting the challenge of a renewed polarization. After it successfully formed a united transitional government with the leadership of the Ennahda Movement, it is now facing the repercussions of the assassination of opposition leader Chokri Belaid.
The assassination led to the resignation of all the secular and leftist opposition members from the assembly writing the country’s constitution. Islamist Ennahda Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali has called for replacing his cabinet with one of technocrats, a plan apparently rejected by both the opposition and his own party. The demonstrations and the anger that has dominated the scene today, and which possibly will continue, indicate that the fallout from the assassination threatens the coalition between the Islamists and the secularist parties. This might auger a period of polarization totally uncharacteristic of Tunisia’s past.
Tunisian’s revolution was peaceful, and the recent assassination is a rare interruption in a country that has had only one political assassination — Salah Ben Yousef — during the national liberation struggle before independence. It is crucial that the Arab Spring which started in Tunis does not create a dangerous polarization between secularists and Islamists, yet this seems to be happening.
It is important that Tunisia as well as Egypt do not allow the emerging dichotomy between secularists and Islamists to replace the national unity and spirit of reconciliation necessary for both countries to resume the inspiring role which led the world to celebrate an Arab Spring two years ago.
Clovis Maksoud is a former ambassador and permanent observer of the League of Arab States at the United Nations and its chief representative in the United States for more than 10 years.