Two years after the elections, Tunisia looks for a way out of its crisis. The government and the opposition have begun a national dialogue while ordinary Tunisians are taking to the streets in protest.
A group of students protests loudly in the center of the Tunisian capital. "We need to get rid of Ennahda - the ruling party - as soon as possible," said Mohamed. "They get nothing done. We urgently need a new party that moves the country forward." Can the national dialogue lead the country out of its crisis? Mohamed shrugs his shoulders and goes on protesting.
On the Avenue Bourguiba, where in January 2011 tens of thousands demanded the ouster of Dictator Zine El Abidine, government opponents and government supporters are taking part in demonstrations. They only agree that their country cannot continue like this. But only a few thousand turned up today. Fewer and fewer citizens can be mobilized for political issues. Many just hope that the politicians will find a way out of this enduring crisis.
The tears of joy are history
It is just two years since Tunisians left the voting booths with tears of joy and a proudly raised their tinted forefingers. They voted in what was for many of them their first democratic election. The constituent assembly was assigned to write a constitution within a year and then hand over power to a regular government.
The once-enthusiastic population is now frustrated and disappointed. The constitution is still not finished, there is no electoral law and a date for the elections has not been announced yet. Optimists hope that the election can take place in summer 2014. But Tunisian political observers do not expect the elections before 2015. At the same time, the economic situation is deteriorating while prices and unemployment are rising.
Is the national dialogue a way out of the crisis?
At the beginning of October the different political forces officially began a so-called national dialogue. Its work began on Wednesday (23.10.2013). The goal of the national dialogue is to lead the country out of its political crisis, which worsened after the murder of a left-wing parliamentarian in July.
After several weeks of negotiations, the government and the opposition have agreed to a proposal from the federation of trade unions, the UGTT. Under the proposal the new constitution is to be finished within a month and the government is to hand over power to a government of experts. Abdelhamid Jelassi, leader of the Ennahda party that won the 2011 elections, is optimistic. "Much has been achieved and we were able to restore confidence. The biggest problem in this country is that all parties are doubtful about the others."
Building bridges for Ennahda
The coming weeks will show if the opposition will allow the government a face-saving retreat and if Ennahda is willing to withdraw. "My impression is that Ennahda realizes that it has lost many supporters. Ennahda knows that it cannot expect another election win or to stay in power much longer," said Joachim Paul, director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation office in Tunis. Ennahda is therefore doing everything to gain time in order to to strengthen its position before its orderly retreat, he said.
The ruling party is not in a hurry as Ameur Larayedh, brother of the Prime Minister and member of Ennahda's executive committee, admits. Many outstanding issues need to be settled in the national dialogue. As long as the problem of the new election committee is not solved, "we cannot discuss an election date or any other initiative that includes a time table," Larayedh said. But that is what the national dialogue is meant to do.
Historical chance on the brink
Many observers are skeptical that the negotiations will solve the crisis. Only a few believe that all parties are in agreement, as Ennahda has said. The well-known constitutionalist Kais Said says there are many possible outcomes - including violent confrontation. "I do not want this for Tunisia - our country deserves better."
The political programs of the government and the opposition do not differ much, he says. "But they behave like in a western movie, where everybody has his finger on the trigger and the only question is, who shoots first," said Said. The government and opposition each deny the other's right to exist, he said. That has led to the population becoming alienated from politics. Many Tunisians are fed up with the daily political factionalism. "Maybe we are right now missing the historical chance to build a democracy," he said.