Tunisia’s Political Crisis Escalates

Tensions mount between Tunisia’s ruling party and the opposition, as the latter calls for the government to step down.

al-monitor Protesters shout slogans and wave national flags during a demonstration in support of the ruling Ennahda party in Tunis, Feb. 16, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi.

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tunisia, tamarrud campaign, protests, islamists, ennahda, ahmed najib chebbi

Jul 16, 2013

A stark division between the government coalition, led by the Islamist Ennahda movement, and the secular opposition is taking place in the Tunisian political arena. This comes following calls by leftist and liberal parties to topple the interim government and dissolve the National Constituent Assembly (NCA), which is dominated by Islamists.

The political situation in Tunisia has been influenced by the Egyptian developments, after former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi was deposed. The Popular Front (an alliance of leftists and nationalists) called for dissolving the NCA and replacing it with a committee of legal experts tasked with drafting a new constitution for the country. Nidaa Tunis, a secular movement headed by former Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi, called for bringing down the government and forming a national salvation government that completes what was started under the transitional period.

Yet, these calls fell on the ruling Ennahda movement’s deaf ears, which believed that the situation in Egypt is quite different from the one in Tunisia, and pointed out that Tunisia is preparing itself to ratify the new constitution and organize presidential and legislative elections later this year.

Sami Tariki, a member of Ennahda’s political bureau, told Al-Hayat that Islamists in Tunisia ruled the country in harmony with secular parties, participated with the opposition in conferences for national dialogue, and reached consensus in term of separating Sharia law from the constitution, the freedom of conscience, and the political system. He added that the conditions for the transitional period’s success are currently present, given that the new constitution will be ratified and elections will soon be held.

Observers believe that the opposition’s calls to bring down the government and dissolve the NCA are nothing more than an exploitation of the Egyptian situation to force Ennahda to make concessions, and to politically confuse the movement as elections approach.

It should be mentioned that youth initiatives reproduced the experiment of the Egyptian Tamarod movement, and called on Tunisians to revolt against the Ennahda-led government and the NCA. This comes after the Egyptian Tamarod movement succeeded in organizing the million-man demonstrations that called for the ouster of Morsi at the end of the previous month.  

In the same context, local media circulated news of moves and consultations conducted by Ahmed Najib Chebbi, leader of the opposition Republican Party, to reconcile the various points of view between the ruling “troika” (the Ennahda Movement, Ettakatol, and the Congress for the Republic) and the opposition factions. This is in order to rapidly complete the drafting of the constitution, develop a roadmap to end the transitional period, and oppose violence by dissolving the Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution — which are close to Islamists in Tunisia, and which security reports have confirmed as being involved in violence against activists and political parties.

In a statement, spokesman for the Republican Party Issam Chebbi expressed to Al-Hayat his party's refusal to project the Egyptian scenario on the situation in Tunisia, especially regarding the army’s interference in political life. Nevertheless, he called on the Ennahda party to reconsider its positions, especially in terms of appointing its partisans in the administration and collaborating in violence with the Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution.

Although Najib Chebbi is considered one of the most prominent icons of the opposition in Tunisia, his position is currently close to that of Ennahda regarding the need to respect the [government’s] legitimacy and refusing the calls to dissolve the NCA and the government. Some observers interpret this rapprochement by saying that Chebbi seeks to be a consensual figure that reconciles points of views between the opposition and government, and thus enhances his chances of becoming a serious candidate in the upcoming presidential elections at the same time.

The Ennahda party seems to have a positive view of Chebbi’s moves, [who is seen] as “a credible national figure,” as Tariki told Al-Hayat. This comes at a time when Nidaa Tunis and the Popular Front dealt with lassitude with Chebbi’s moves and did not support his efforts to reach consensus, given that the positions of these two parties have not changed yet and can still call for the overthrow of the government and the dissolution of the NCA.

In a related context, opposition MP Ahmed Khaskhousi announced Monday evening [July 15] his resignation from the NCA during a plenary session, because of his objection to the draft constitution that is subject to ratification. He stressed that he does not want to be “a false witness on drafting a constitution that does not represent Tunisians.”

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