Tunisia at Crossroads

Article Summary
Rumors of an impending cabinet shuffle in Tunisia's parliament are growing, but political analysts foresee limited options for the country’s political trajectory, which may take an increasingly religious path, writes Mounir Ben Mahmoud.

The cabinet reshuffle has been the talk of the town since last July. However, the political-reform program that was supposed to go along with this reshuffling failed to make it to the negotiation table, while the services of the current government were never evaluated.

This sort of evaluation would have been automatic had every department in the Jebali government offered a plan of action with a timetable for implementation, as any self-respecting government would do. Had that been the case, the results could have been quantified and we could have safely assessed the services offered by each department and made adjustments as necessary.

However, because there is no such program, just as there is no assessment of its implementation, the failure of the Troika is palpable. Furthermore, since there does not appear to be any clear solution, the question arises as to whether the talk about a cabinet reshuffling is based on objective assessments or political calculations.

Amid political wrangling about the announced ministerial reshuffle, there is growing conviction that differences outweigh similarities among the figures in the political arena, just as observers had predicted.

In this context, the question arises as to whether the Ennahda Party would really want this reshuffle, given that it has not shown any political flexibility, leading it to be stonewalled by potential partners.

Abdellatif Mekki, Minister of Health and potential number two in Ennahda, also declared at the end of the Shura Council that the parliamentary Freedom and Dignity bloc is the only one willing to join the government.

Yet still, according to Mekki, the negotiations have interested Al-Joumhouri Party, the Democratic Alliance, the Wafa Party and representatives of the Freedom and Dignity bloc led by Mohamed Tahar El Ilahi, who is deemed to be close to Ennahda.

Al-Joumhouri, the Democratic Alliance and the Wafa Party have already expressed various reservations about their association with the Troika government. The first two stressed the need for holders of sovereignty portfolios to be neutral as well as the need for a clear road map for the second phase of the transition to democracy.

The Wafa Party demanded the attention of the Ministry of Justice, expressing its dissatisfaction through dissenting statements made by Skander Rekik, the new disciple of Abderraouf Ayadi. The Wafa Party does not see anything new in the Troika statements.

Moreover, the opposition was not the only side to express reservations. Within the Troika, the Congress for the Republic (CPR) demanded that the number of portfolios be reduced and that greater efficiency be achieved in the processing of corruption cases. Ettakattol, in turn, also demanded a clear road map for a democratic transition.

Complaints came from all sides, demanding a change in the government profile. But the Shura Council of Ennahda, which met over the weekend, has turned a deaf ear to any attempt to change their direction. In other words, Ennahda does not really want the current direction to be reconsidered, merely acknowledging that there had been failures on the part of the government.

However, Ennahda has drastically increased the number of its formal meetings with various political groups. The Ghannouchi party announced that it excluded Nida Tunis, El Aridha and the Popular Front from these secret negotiations. However, it pretended to enter into intensive negotiations with Najib Chebbi, Mohamed Hamdi and even Abderraouf Ayadi.

In reality, it resembled a debate, even if Rached Ghannouchi really did meet with Najib Chebbi. That was only a exploratory phase to learn about possible provisions and the political program of the opposition. But the truth is that Ghannouchi was merely buying time to try to improve his party's position and further strengthen his roots in the administration.

According to political scientist Hamadi Redissi, Ennahda did not adopt its current trajectory through trial and error.

"It is true that Ennahda often employs double talk, but it works according to a precise agenda, which it is implementing in a way that is at once transparent and obscure," Redissi said. The expert added, "Ennahda leaders are now capitalizing on their success in the transparently-held elections. In political science, this strategy is called elective dictatorship."

Redissi noted that Ennahda "seeks to hold sway in the state's institutions and the civil community as well." He believes that the Islamist party has two plans.

Plan A is for Tunisia to become something like a democratic dictatorship, along the lines of the Putin model. An authoritarian ruler would be elected and accepted by the West.

Plan B involves the establishment of a religious dictatorship along the lines of the Iranian model.

To confirm this interpretation, Redissi said that "the number of Koranic schools is increasing, the niqab has been authorized and the number of Salafist-controlled mosques has increased to more than 500 across the country."

Islamization will not be imposed by force but gradually. Therefore, in four or five years, religiosity will take hold of Tunisia. This way, Tunisia will appear to have shifted to a religious state in a very natural way. We can see the tell-tale signs already. This is clearly the dream of Ghannouchi, but our worst nightmare," the political scientist said.

From this perspective, Ghannouchi is opposed to the cabinet reshuffle. He only seeks to advance his plans for Tunisia.

Found in: ennahda party

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