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No longer a role model

Rising political violence in Tunisia poses a threat to its post-revolution progress.

india Updated: Feb 08, 2013 23:01 IST
Rachel Shabi
Rachel Shabi

Amid the shock and grief at a terrible murder, there is an angry accusation. When forthright opposition leader Chokri Belaid was gunned down in broad daylight outside his home in Tunis, furious protesters marched on the offices around the country of the ruling Ennahda party. Belaid’s brother, Abdel Majid, accused the Islamist party — which dominates the three-way coalition government — of the murder. Ennahda has denounced the assassination. Chillingly, Belaid, a secularist and vocal critic of Ennahda, warned of the rise of political violence when he appeared on Tunisian TV the night before he was killed.

Tension has been building, then, within a revolution that is too often billed a success story. Tunisia has not suffered the level of turmoil and violence of Egypt, or the agonising death and displacement of Syria, and so it appears to be handling the transition from dictatorship to democracy well. But Tunisians themselves bemoan their role as revolutionary poster-child, as it can lead to the outside world ignoring or dismissing the real problems there.

One such problem is the escalating political violence in Tunisia in the past year. A recent report by Human Rights Watch cites attacks on activists, journalists, intellectual and political figures — all the incidents apparently “motivated by a religious agenda”. Others have worried that the perpetrators of attacks on secular figures are not pursued rigorously by the coalition. There’s concern that Ennahda has failed to act on verbal and physical attacks by the ultra-religious Salafi movement. And opposition groups have voiced concern at the Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution — neighbourhood protection groups claiming to fight corruption and old regime remnants. The opposition views them as Ennahda enforcers (though the party has dismissed claims of any affiliation with the leagues), and some Tunisians suspect them of being behind the murder of Belaid.

In January, Amnesty warned that Tunisia’s latest draft constitution, albeit an improvement on previous versions, is still ambiguous on issues such as gender equality, freedom of expression and judicial independence. It’s possible that any post-revolutionary party, once in power, would face the same accusations over missed deadlines for political progress, lack of justice, and a surge in youth unemployment. But in Tunisia this is compounded by the fact that there’s a worry that Islamists don’t really do the sort of power-sharing required in post-revolutionary periods.

Ennahda’s prime minister, Hamdi Jebali, pledged to form an interim cabinet of technocrats to prevent an impending political crisis. Then Ennahda’s leadership announced that Jebali had spoken out of turn and rejected his plan. But this is not a time for power politics; it is a time for consensus. If Ennahda doesn’t get it right now, it won’t just risk losing the forthcoming election — it could lose Tunisia’s revolution too. The Guardian