TUNIS, Tunisia — Among the nations afflicted by the Arab Spring, Tunisia is typically considered a success. Since popular unrest first swept through the country after a fruit-seller lit himself on fire, the government has managed to cooperate with the two main opposition groups. The government has even given these opposition groups a great deal of discretion in helping them draft a new constitution. However, the government has struggled to make economic improvements and control religious extremists. The opposition has accused the government of being overly tolerant of these religious extremists and their violent tendencies. The country, which used to be one of the most secular in the Middle East before the Arab Spring, has been degraded considerably to its current state. At this point, the government’s main priorities are to write a new constitution and begin the long road towards elections.
Tunisia has two main opposition parties, one of whom is the UGTT, which represents over 500,000 workers. On Tuesday, the opposition parties sent a proposal to the government. The initiative includes a timetable for transition and the formation of a new cabinet, after first adopting a new Constitution and conducting new elections. Under this transition plan, the current government would step down and make way for a caretaker organization. Most importantly, the initiative calls for President Moncef Marzouki and Prime Minister Ali Larayedh to engage with the opposition in a national dialogue. Tunisia’s opposition leaders agreed on Friday to talks with the ruling Islamic party, Ennahda, as a result of the proposal. In a statement made on Friday, the ruling party said, “Ennahda announces after examining the proposal…its acceptance and demands that a serious national dialogue is launched to get the country out of the political crisis.”
However, these talks have failed and the crisis appears to be worsening. After announcing that the talks had failed, Ennahda said that the nation was in dire need of a ‘political truce.’ Although some members of Ennahda have expressed support for the dialogue taking place, many of them have avoided supporting the specific details of the plan. More specifically, members of the party have criticized the plan’s quick timeframe, the provision to take power away from the elected National Constituent Assembly (NCA), and the condition of a necessary two-thirds NCA vote to withdraw confidence from the government. Ennahda refuses to resign before an agreement is met. However, Ennahda said that both parties are committed to “ensuring the success of dialogue through the acceleration of the completion of the transition phase, reaching consensus on the alternative government, and holding free and fair elections at the earliest possible time.”
In July, Mohammad Brahmi, an opposition leader, was killed. Brahmi was the second leader killed in recent months. In February, Chokri Belaid was shot under similar circumstances as Brahmi. Both incidents have been attributed to ‘religious extremists’ by the government. Brahmi’s death has since caused a political crisis in the nation. After the leader was killed, dozens of opposition lawyers quit, which stalled the process of writing a new constitution. Additionally, over 50 members from the NCA withdrew, demanding the dissolution of the government and the formation of a new technocratic government. As a result, protests and political backlash swept through the country, calling for the resignation of the Islamist-led government and the National Constituent Assembly. This political crisis has made the country’s deep political divides, present since the Arab Spring, even more evident. The opposition, along with human rights groups and lawyers, claims that the government’s failure to protect these leaders is a clear sign of its inability to protect its citizens.
At the end of the day, the government has been willing to make some concessions. Rather than responding to the opposition groups with brute force, it has sat down with them to discuss transition plans. In addition, the ruling party has been less harsh than other governments borne out of the Arab Spring. The ruling party has taken a holistic approach as opposed to a sheer purge, only removing those from power who were directly linked to the corrupt government of Ben Ali. Additionally, the ruling party and the opposition have come to agreement on certain principles: rejection of violence, making the economy the number one priority, creating a roadmap for transition, receiving a consensus on major issues, and the independence of the judiciary, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly.
However, the opposition sees the government’s failure make definitive plans for transition as an attempt to prolong the process. The government, at the moment, is unwilling to install an interim government. However, the government’s willingness to work with opposition groups should prove fruitful in the future as the two groups seek to forge a new government together.