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Tens of thousands of protesters march in Tunis, Tunisia, August 6, 2013 to demand the resignation of the Islamist-led government. Photo: picture alliance / abaca by Nicolas Fauque/Images de Tunisie/ABACAPRESS
Image: picture alliance / abaca

Tunisia's political deadlock

Sven Pöhle /ai
August 9, 2013

Days of protests against the transitional government have rocked Tunisia. People and politicians are divided and a compromise seems far off as fronts harden and calls for leaders to resign mount.


Hundreds of Tunisian flags have been flying above the protesters in Tunis for days. "We have to topple the government," tens of thousands chant in the streets of the capital calling for the end of Tunisia's transitional government.

One reason for the ongoing protest is the influence religion holds over politics and society. The divide between Islamists and secularists has grown, said German politician Joachim Hörster of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union.

"The governing Ennahda Party didn't understand that despite their political majority it still needs to leave room for minorities," Hörster told German public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk.

The moderate Islamist Ennahda is in a collation under President Moncef Marzouki with the secular Ettakatol party and the center-left CPR as junior partners.

The protests were triggered by the murder of Mohamed Brahmi on July 25. The leftist opposition politician was shot with the same weapon as opposition leader Chokri Belaid in February. Many Tunisians accuse Ennahda of being implicit in the murders of the key opposition figures.

Struggling for a new constitution

Tunisian Assembly Constituent's president Mustapha Ben Jaafar (photo: FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images)
Ben Jaafar has suspended the work of the constitutional assemblyImage: FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images

The countries' parties that once were united in their opposition to dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali can currently find little common ground. One of the consequences is that there still is no new constitution. The transitional parliament is to come up with the document as well as with new election laws paving the way for fresh parliamentary and presidential elections by September. But the secular and the Islamist camps are still struggling over the constitution which initially was to be ready by October 2012.

The governing party is responsible for the delay, according to Hamadi El-Aouni, a Tunisian political scientist at Berlin's Free University. The Ennahda party censored the draft "from beginning to end" in its own interest, he said.

The president of the constitutional assembly, Mustafa Ben Jaafar, has suspended the body's work. Since the killing of Brahmi, more than 70 of the 217 parliamentarians are boycotting the assembly, which is dominated by Ennahda members. The first freely elected Tunisian parliament needs a quorum of two thirds of its members to be able to make any decisions.

The assembly would resume its work only once there are talks between the government and the opposition, said Jafaar, who also serves as Ettakatol's secretary general, one of the two junior coalition partners with Ennahda. He also condemned the politicians' failure to solve the crisis.

"Ben Jaafar is trying to win time for Ennahda by trying to calm things down," El-Aouni told DW. This way he would, however, also create a backdoor for himself should the current coalition fail.

Political deadlock

In the meantime, the protests continue. "We'll keep up the pressure in order to isolate Ennahda," said Nizar Ameni of the leftists workers' union. For days the umbrella organization of the country's unions along with the opposition members have organized the daily protests.

Hamadi El-Aouni
Hamadi El-Aouni says that it will take more than just a political dealImage: privat

Parts of the opposition have called for a "government of national unity" that would include all political parties. Others, like Maya Jribi of the Republican Party, want more: She called for an end to the transitional government and the resignation of Prime Minister Ali Larayedh.

But this is something that Ennahda has rejected outright. There's no way they would surrender the leadership of the government and accept a dissolution of the transitional government, said party chief Rashid Ghannouchi. He criticized the protesters saying "their goals are not democratic. In democratic states, protesters don't just swap out governments."

The transitional government has signaled it was willing to talk to the opposition - but only without any preconditions. It also announced parliamentary elections for December 17.

Hamadi El-Aouni said he does not think the transitional government will be able to maintain power until December and that it'll take more than just politics to change the future for Tunisia. There also was simply a lack of competence in many areas. Only once all these elements would come together, the problems of the country could gradually be solved, El-Aouni added.

"There are other elements that are lacking when it comes to working towards a safe future: The youth, the lawyers, the civil society and other forces that were part of the 2011 revolt are completely left out of the picture," he said.

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