Tunisia Opposition Leader: Dialogue Could Take Place Soon

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In an interview with As-Safir, the secretary-general of Tunisia’s opposition Republican Party, Maya Jribi, said the opposition and the government are nearing a solution and dialogue could be held as early as this week.

The Tunisian crisis continues, especially after opposition MP Mohammed Brahmi was assassinated on July 25. This comes as fears have begun to grow of a potential dissolution of the frameworks imposed by the state for any comprehensive political work, if all mediations were to fail in finding a solution.

In this context, As-Safir interviewed Maya Jribi, secretary-general of the opposition Republican Party. Jribi asserted, “The crisis in Tunisia is critical. It is a governing coalition crisis.” At the same time, she revealed that new avenues for resolving the matter have begun to emerge, and [added that] as a result of several efforts “the national dialogue can be launched early next week.”

Jribi is a Tunisian politician who participated in the formation of the Progressive Socialist Rally in 1983. She was an activist in several civil society organizations in her country. In 2006, after being elected secretary-general of the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), the successor of the Progressive Socialist Rally, she became the first woman to lead a political party in Tunisia. In the past decade, the PDP was the main opposition party opposing the rule of ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

In 2007, she went on an open hunger-strike in protest of attempts to close her party’s headquarters. At that time, her struggles undoubtedly contributed to ending Ben Ali’s rule.

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Although the PDP lost in the elections held on Oct. 23, 2011, she was able to enter the National Constituent Assembly (NCA). Today, she is the most prominent figure in the Tunisian opposition. In April 2012, the Republican Party emerged as a result of the merger of a number of parties, and Jribi was elected its secretary-general.

Following is the text of the interview:

As-Safir:  In your opinion, what is the nature of the political crisis in Tunisia today? How would you describe it?

Jribi:  The crisis in Tunisia is critical. Either it will be resolved in the right direction, [allowing] Tunisia to move toward the establishment of democracy and the rule of law, to embark on achieving development and to work in a safe environment, or, God forbid, we fail to find the necessary consensus. [In the case of the latter], Tunisia will witness years of darkness that only God knows how long it will last.

Moreover, the crisis in Tunisia is political par excellence; it is caused by the government's insistence on dominating the state and society. It is a crisis of a governing coalition that has failed to achieve security and a decent life for its citizens, which are the basic tasks of the state.

Based on that, the situation requires a reconsideration of the system of governance in a way that achieves national unity and opposes political violence, combats terrorism and prepares for free and fair elections that will end this long transitional phase, and establish permanent democratic institutions.

As-Safir:  What does the opposition want to achieve through its movements? And to what extent are the opposition parties in harmony with each other?

Jribi:  The martyrdom of Mohammed Brahmi — who, for me, was a companion and colleague in the NCA, and above all, an honest, principled fighter — felt like an earthquake that has shaken everyone up and delivered a clear message: Our system of governance cannot go on like this. The political actors should agree on a new ruling system that can peacefully end this difficult and fateful stage.

The opposition's demand is clear: The departure of this failing government and a consensus — and I want to stress the word “consensus” — on an impartial government headed by an independent prime minister who undertakes the implementation of a clear platform that [is able to] garner the support of all parties and guide the country toward transparent elections in a secure environment. This program can be summarized as follows:

• Resist political violence by dissolving the so-called “leagues for the protection of the revolution,” which support the ruling party.

• Develop a counter-terrorism strategy by drawing up a unified strategy that can ensure national unity. This strategy ought to be implemented within the framework of confidence in the new government, while vigilantly and firmly defending state institutions and the security of the country.

• Review the thousands of appointments and nominations made by the administration. These were made on the basis of party loyalty rather than on the basis of merit and efficiency, in a bid to tilt the balance toward the ruling party during the upcoming elections.

• Resuming the NCA’s course of action by completing the constitution in a short period of time.

In this context, unity between the civil and political communities is historic. This may be the first time we have witnessed such unity since the national movement for the independence of the country at the beginning of the last century. All of the opposition parties and major social organizations: the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), the Customs Organization and the Union of Tunisian Lawyers agree that saving the country inevitably requires forming a government made up of impartial and skilled ministers. The troika and the Ennahda movement ought to realize the importance of this essential factor.

As-Safir:  Why do you insist on the reconfiguration of the ruling powers established by the Oct. 23, 2011 elections? What are your concerns?

Jribi:  The system of governance that emerged from the Oct. 23 elections is no longer legitimate, as we elected it for one year only. It has been almost two years, and they have not accomplished the task they were elected for in the first place, namely the drafting of the constitution of the Second Republic, one that stands for justice, freedom and dignity — all the principles advocated by the revolution.

Moreover, not only is this government devoid of electoral legitimacy, but also of functional and consensual legitimacy. In addition to its inability to achieve the minimum level of development and a decent standard of living required from it, the occurrence of a series of assassinations of political leaders and heroes of the security apparatus and the national army makes the departure of this government a national task needed to save the country.

It is true that democracy is based on the ballot box, but it also requires evaluation and accountability. It is also true that the democratic process is based on electoral merit, which is why the opposition is demanding consensus be reached and elections held. In order to reach this goal in a sound environment, the opposition, backed by national organizations, is asking for consensus on a new government devoid of partisan loyalties and that does not serve a particular party. Rather, it should serve the interests of Tunisia and save the country from the threat of terrorism, which has become a reality.

The element of consensus in the search for a solution to the crisis is crucial. It ensures the country’s stability and unity in the face of risks. Therefore, we talk about a consensual legitimacy in this third transitional phase. A true consensus and not an illusory consensus as is the case of the troika today, which is based on the loyalty of partisans allying with Ennahda in return for staying in power. These include the Congress for the Republic, led by President Moncef Marzouki, and the Ettakatol Party, headed by NCA president Mustapha Ben Jaafar.

As-Safir:  Why haven’t mediation efforts by the UGTT succeeded so far? What have been the main disputes? What did ​​the opposition parties offer to ensure the success of this mediation?

Jribi:  So far we are dealing with the fact that the ruling team is holding on to the power, even if this is to the detriment of the country's stability and security. The opposition, which was calling for the dissolution of the NCA and the toppling of the government, has accepted the UGTT’s initiative. This initiative proposes forming a national salvation government and the NCA resuming its work.

The opposition accepted the initiative provided that the NCA only resumes its work following the formation of the government and subject to our agreement on refraining from adopting its previous working mechanisms and setting a date to complete the drafting of the constitution and organizing elections.

All this indicates the Republican Party’s willingness to show flexibility, which will help in resolving the situation without compromising the essence of the demands. These demands are no longer the opposition's demands, but the demands of broader segments of society.

Moreover, I would like to say that despite the impasse we are witnessing, I remain optimistic. I assure you that the Republicans will spare no effort to contribute to a solution, which not only fulfills the interests or desires of this or that party, but which rather meets the requirements of the prevailing situation in the country.

Nowadays, while feelings of frustration have begun to overwhelm some parties and after UGTT Secretary-General Hussain Abbasi suspended the deliberations, we have resumed bilateral meetings paving the way for a broad national dialogue.

The two meetings between Ahmed Najib Chebbi, the president of the Senior Political Board of the Republican Party on one hand, and Ennahda leader Rachid al-Ghannouchi and Abbasi on the other, have opened new paths toward a solution. I can also say that the national dialogue may be held early next week at the latest.

Of course, this remains subject to the parties’ willingness to reach a solution. Although such a solution may not completely and directly please each of them, it would save Tunisia. Such a solution would declare the formation of a truly impartial government, one that would restore the cohesion of state institutions and lead the country towards free and fair elections in a secure environment.

In all cases, the Republican Party is considering all proposals and addressing them only from the angle of security and stability of Tunisia and the dignity and safety of its citizens. The interest of this party or the position of that party does not concern us.

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