Friday, March 01, 2013

Tunisia: After Belaid’s death, putting an end to violence in Tunisia

by Mohamed Kerrou
Tunis – The recent nomination of a new prime minister, Ali Laarayedh, after the assassination of the Tunisian opposition leader, Chokri Belaid, heralds a political and institutional crisis that could lead to a climate of instability and insecurity in the country. Yet this also presents the opportunity for national reconciliation between the principal players on the political scene. One question remains: how can we put an end to the violence and construct a civil peace that would ensure the conditions for a successful process of democratic transition?

To answer this question, it is important to identify the causes of the violence and propose concrete solutions that will ensure civil peace and national harmony.

The political polarisation between those grouped with the Islamic parties and those who belong to the so-called secular parties is indisputably at the heart of the tense climate. Aligned with the Ennahda party, which emerged victorious after elections for the Constitutional Assembly, the first group includes different currents wishing to give religion an important place in society and public institutions, while the second, embracing liberal parties such as Nidaa Tunis and Al Joumhouri, wants to separate religion from politics, though still recognising the place of Islam in the Constitution.

Moreover, Tunisia right now is relatively tense due to the increase in violence, which has intensified because of the economic and political crisis. Together these have led to the weakening of the middle classes’ buying power, as well as the deterioration of relations between governed and governing. This climate of political mistrust is also the result of the Constitutional Assembly’s protracted work drawing up a constitution and, above all, the absence of effective measures to respond to the demands of the youth, namely the right to work and national dignity through the enjoyment of individual and public freedoms.

Following the resignation of former Prime Minister, Hamadi Jebali, whose intention to form a government of technocrats was rejected by major political parties, the government faces both a crisis and an opportunity.

Even revised under the form of a mixed or techno-political government, this pragmatic solution could be the best way to avoid the chaos that could take hold in the event of a political void. A government of technocrats without political affiliations, or even of techno-politicians, will have to expedite the country’s affairs and organise the next legislative and presidential elections.

Meanwhile, a relative peace could be assured and the objective of controlling the violence can be set if, first and foremost, the political players agree to revive the initiative of the main union (the General Union of Tunisian Workers). This would consist of a national dialogue bringing together all political parties. Launched a few months ago, this initiative was rejected by the ruling Ennahda party because of the risks it presented, in the party’s eyes, of replacing the Constitutional Assembly and its failure to include the other Islamic and independent currents.

The national dialogue would only gain by being open to all political currents. It could calm tensions by recognising the legitimacy of the elections and rule of law.

For its part, the democratic opposition is called upon to respect the electoral legitimacy of Ennahda, just as the latter has every interest in keeping the sovereign ministries (justice, interior, and foreign affairs) independent in terms of decisional power. Furthermore, the dissolution of militias officially recognised under the name of “Protection Committees of the Revolution” is imperative in order to curb excesses and allow only security forces – the police, National Guard and army – to exercise their authority.

Finally, the national dialogue could be ratified by the signature of a civil peace that would complement a Constitution by sanctioning the principles of a universal civil state with foundations in Arab-Muslim identity. In order for the democratic transition to succeed, it is important to preserve national unity through dialogue and the shared search for solutions to questions of economic growth and social and regional development.


* Mohamed Kerrou is Professor of Political Science and Anthropology at the University of Tunis in Tunisia. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews),
Copyright permission is granted for publication.