Thursday, 13 December 2012

Tunisia: Al-Nahda’s Deadly Mistakes

Tunisian security forces and protestors clash in the town of Siliana, in central Tunisia, on 29 November 2012 (Photo: Fethi Belaid)
Published Wednesday, December 12, 2012

In the coming days, Tunisia will begin celebrating the two-year anniversary of the revolution that toppled the Ben Ali regime. The occasion will be marred however by the repeated missteps of the al-Nahda ruling party.

The Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) has called for a strike on 13 November 2012. The strike, which coincides with a visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is a slap in the face to the increasingly beleaguered Islamist al-Nahda coalition government.

A series of missteps by the Islamist party has alienated many sectors of Tunisian society and has raised questions abroad about whether it is capable of governing the nation as it transitions into a democracy.

It was not long ago – before the 14 January 2011 revolution – that any affiliation with al-Nahda was considered illegal, with many of its supporters and leaders spending years in Ben Ali’s prisons. A number of al-Nahda ministers in the current government have spent more than a decade in prison. Prime Minister Hamadi al-Jabali, for example, was imprisoned for 17 years, ten of which were in solitary isolation.

Al-Nahda’s road to power was not easy by any means; it came after years of repression and exile for many.

The movement was rewarded with a victory at the ballot box, winning 39 percent of the constituent assembly in the country’s first free elections in October 2011. It went on to form a coalition government with two other smaller parties.

There is no question today as to the legitimacy of those elections or the right of al-Nahda to rule, but according to the majority of public opinion polls, the movement is increasingly losing support among Tunisians due to a series of deadly mistakes it has committed since taking power.

Today, many sectors of Tunisian society are in a state of mutiny against the Islamist party, with repeated attacks being reported against their branch offices throughout the country. For its part, al-Nahda claims that a collection of miniscule parties and remnants of the old regime are conspiring to undermine it.

However, the party cannot deny that it has backed down on a number of agreements and deadlines since the very beginning. The al-Nahda bloc in the constituent assembly, for example, refused to set an end date for the body, which was supposed to produce a constitution within a year, and hold new elections.

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