Tunisia crisis poses renewal of the revolution
The abrupt turns by Tunisia’s Congress for the Republic party highlight the political fragility of the country which was the birthplace of the Arab spring two years ago and the potential of the masses to bring change.
Tunisia’s peaceful revolution made it a bellwether for Arab democracy and its current crisis – parallel to the one gripping Egypt – is important for that reason.
The CPR, president Moncef Marzouki’s party, announced a few days ago that it was withdrawing from the coalition government which includes the ruling Islamist party Al-Nahda.
The secular CPR is part of the ruling coalition overseen by prime minister Hamadi Jebali. But yesterday, CPR secretary-general Mohammed Abou said the party would delay its plans to pull its ministers out of the cabinet.
Al-Nahda itself has been in crisis since Sunday, when three of its own ministers resigned from the cabinet. But Jebali’s decision to dissolve the cabinet and replace it with technocrats is being challenged by his own party and others in the coalition.
The constitutional crisis reflects the continuing mass unrest in Tunisia since last week’s daylight execution of the opposition leader of the Jabha Chaabya (Popular Front), Chokri Belaid. Belaid’s murder by unknown gunmen is said to be the first political assassination since Tunisia's independence from France in 1965.
In fact Tunis was the scene of the execution by Israeli commandos of Yassir Arafat’s co-leader Abu Jihad in 1988. Tunisian opposition party WAFA is currently planning to sue Israel for its involvement.
Belaid’s co-leader and companion, Hammami Hamma, says that the execution of revolutionary left Belaid, was "planned and executed by professionals”. Responsibility, Hamma said, lies with the government, which has demonstrated a "guilty indulgence towards violence."
In ongoing unrest hundreds of thousands have been demonstrating in Tunis against Belaidis’ murder and around the country. Last Friday, Tunisia’s largest trade union called a general strike, one of the few in the country’s history. The leader of the General Union of Tunisian Workers said he had received a death threat as did radio journalist and blogger Emna Ben Jemaa.
The internal conflict within Nahda is a reflection of the contending forces within Tunisia in the wake of the overthrow of its former dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who ruled the country from 1987 until January 2011. He has since been sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment for inciting violence and murder.
But does it all boil down to a conflict between the “fundamentalist” wing of the Islamic Salafist movement and the secular democrats within the ruling coalition?
Certainly there is plenty of evidence that political assassinations serves the interests of those who seek to unseat liberal-leaning, pro-Western politicians, as with the seizure of hostages in the Algerian gas plant and elsewhere. The insecurity of the ruling parties in Tunisian coalition politics as in Egypt is clearly something to be exploited by sinister forces.
Indeed, the revolutionary Arab spring is in danger. But the simplistic narrative that the alternatives consist of “Western democracy” versus indigenous Islam is wrong and dangerous.
The overthrow of Ben Ali like that of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt marked the end of an historic epoch. The rule of those like Ali’s predecessor, Bourguiba was the result of an impasse. The uprising that followed the immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi in late 2010, came because there was no possibility of reform from within the regime.
Unrest and crisis continues because none of the conditions behind the 2011 uprising have been changed: massive unemployment, a deteriorating economy, but above all the lack of an economic and political say in the country’s future remain burning issues. Protesters have been attacked by security forces with tear gas and the torture of opponents continues in Tunisia’s notorious jails.
Electoral coalitions shuffling power amongst themselves cannot satisfy these aspirations. It is clear that the limited political democracy offered by its ruling political formations – secular or religious – cannot meet the aspirations of the Tunisian youth, workers, women and farmers. A renewal of the revolution that this time aims to transfer real power to the people is on the horizon.
A World to Win secretary
12 February 2013