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World

Tunisians frustrated by political situation

One year has passed since Tunisia held its first post-Arab Spring elections last October. But the enthusiasm has given way to frustration. The government fears failure, and the opposition hopes to seize an opportunity.

"Get rid of the militia," the protestors on Tunis' main promenade Avenue Bourguiba call. Several thousand demonstrators gathered in front of the Interior Ministry last week to vent their anger. They were calling for the resignation of the interior minister at the same spot where a major demonstration took place on January 14, 2011 - shortly before dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country.

The march was sparked by the death of a union leader earlier this month during a protest in the southern town of Tataouine. The man, who officials claim died of a heart attack, was a functionary in the party Nida' Tounes (Call of Tunisia), founded by former Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi.

According to Essebsi, militia groups are responsible for the man's death - militia closely linked to the powerful Islamist party Ennahda.

"We are paying the price for a blessed revolution today," Essebsi said. "We are now paying with blood for democracy and for the success of democratic transition." He called the death the "first political murder" following the revolution.

Redeemer or Ben Ali supporter?

The death of the local politician marks the tentative high point of political disputes between the government coalition, which is dominated by Ennahda, and the Tunisian opposition. Nida' Tounes has gained ground in a short period within the opposition movements.

Beji Caid Essebsi Copyright: DW/Sarah Mersch

Essebsi is very critical of the government coalition

The party around Essebsi, who led Tunisia up until the 2011 elections, has become a melting pot for everyone wishing to create a counterweight to Ennahda. From liberal Islamists to left-wing groups, practically all political currents are represented there. In the latest surveys, support for Nida' Tounes lies at about 28 percent - almost as much as Ennahda, which can count on 30 percent of votes.

But many members of Nida' Tounes were also part of Ben Ali's disbanded party RCD, said Ennahda spokesman Faycel Nacer.

"Nida' Tounes is a good example of the former regime's influence," Nacer said. "There are many left-wing extremists who used to work with Ben Ali."

Tunisia's civil society groups criticize that there are too many disputes and too few solutions. Those groups say the accusations from both sides are mainly politically motivated smokescreens. The truly important questions remain unresolved. The constitutional draft is still not completed and there is a dispute around the next election date remains. The judicial reform is only progressing sluggishly and officials from Ben Ali's days continue to pull the strings in the police apparatus.

Revolution versus counter-revolution

The economic problems, which were instrumental in sparking the uprisings of January 2011, continue to exist. Unemployment in inland regions is up to 50 percent in certain areas, food prices are rising, and the central bank only has three months worth of foreign currency reserves left.

The police sealed off the Interior Ministry in Tunis Copyright: DW/Sarah Mersch

The police sealed off the Interior Ministry in Tunis

Following the attack on the US Embassy in September, tourists are avoiding Tunisia - just after this significant economic sector had begun to slowly recuperate. More than half a million Tunisians are dependent on the country's tourism industry.

Many citizens are demanding that the political parties work together to get a grip on these problems. They fear that the population will become the victim of the disputes between the government and the opposition - and in the end, be right back where they were before the revolution. The philosopher and journalist Youssef Seddik, one of civil society's most prominent representatives, says he does not want to give up hope just yet.

"The revolution is fighting against the counter-revolution here," Seddik said. "I hope that we will have overcome this in two or three years. But I am very optimistic."

Seddik said the process was under way. After all, the French Revolution also required time.

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