Two years after holding its first free elections, Tunisia is still struggling with the transition to democracy. And many people blame the Ennahda-led government for the instability.
Thousands of protesters were out in the streets on Wednesday, including outside the prime minister’s office in Tunis, all demanding the same thing – that Tunisia’s government should resign.
In the two years since Ennahda won parliamentary elections, there are many people who feel it has not delivered on its promises, including the pledge of economic growth.
As the starting point of this national dialogue, the head of government ... should state clearly that he will follow strictly the roadmap. His declaration yesterday was ... very ambiguous, then succeeded by the president of the republic who said something totally against the roadmap. So, it will happen, it has to happen, we have no other choice; however it depends on the head of the government.
Wednesday’s demonstration took place just hours before the planned start of a national dialogue between Ennahda, its allies, and opposition groups.
In an apparent attempt to disrupt those talks, religious hardliners killed seven security officers in the city of Sidi Bouzid. Adding to the political pressure is a coalition of secular opposition parties that is demanding the government step down immediately.
In a surprise announcement, Tunisian Prime Minister Ali Larayedh confirmed that the Ennahda-led government would be ready to resign – if certain pre-conditions were met.
“Today, we renew our commitment to the principle of relinquishing power, or the principle of the government stepping down, in line with the different phases of the road map. This process, aims to promote the success of national dialogue and to prevent the country from falling into a dark abyss,” he declared.
The political crisis in Tunisia intensified in July, when an opposition leader was killed outside his home.
Mohamed Brahimi’s family blamed Ennahda for his murder. Protesters demanded the resignation of the government, but Larayedh insisted his government would remain in office.
In August, the prime minister accused an al Qaeda-linked group, Ansar al-Sharia, of carrying out attacks in Tunisia, including the assassinations of opposition members of parliament.
A month later, as the protests continued, Ennahda accepted a roadmap that would see the current government replaced with one run by technocrats. Talks with the opposition on how to proceed had been scheduled to begin on Wednesday, but have now been postponed until Friday.
The Ennahda-led government has been feeling the pressure for some time now. A military coup in Egypt raised fears of a backlash against other governments perceived as Islamist in the region. Meanwhile, the Libyan government’s failure to contain militias and other armed groups is having a spillover effect across the border in Tunisia, with fighters capitalising on the chaos to obtain weapons and training.
So, can a national dialogue be the answer to Tunisia’s problems? Will the government withdraw from power? And are the different parties prepared to talk?
To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter Mike Hanna, is joined by guests: Noomane Fehri, a member of Tunisia’s parliament and founder of the opposition Afaq Tounes Party; Yusra Ghannouchi, the international spokeswoman for Tunisia’s Ennahda Party; and Amel Boubekeur, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center and a specialist on North Africa.
“Ennahda Party, as well as all the parties in the national coalition government, have expressed and stated clearly and reiterated the commitment to this national dialogue and have made many compromises already including expressing clearly their willingness to leave power. However … parties boycotting the national dialogue … and also the withdrawal of members of the assembly [is stalling the process], [they] need to return [to] the assembly in order for us to accelerate the work as required by the roadmap.”
– Yusra Ghannouchi, the international spokeswoman for Tunisia’s ruling Ennahda Party