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Tunisia is in the middle of a hot regional conflict 

July 29, 2020 at 2:02 pm

Tunisian flag raised up at Belvedere Park in Tunis on 20 March, 2017 [Amine Landoulsi/Anadolu Agency]

Tunisians are preparing to welcome the tenth prime minister of their second republic. The average length of post-revolution governments in Tunisia is no more than the historical average of Jordanian governments during the first hundred years of the state. Tunisia is competing with Jordan to top the list of countries that change their governments and prime ministers more often than most.

The government’s instability in Tunisia is understandable. Parties are getting fragmented, and confidence in them is falling. Even Ennahda Movement, which has an Islamic background and topped the list of parties in the last elections, has lost more than two thirds of its voting power. However, because of the fragmentation of the civil movement parties and old parties, it managed to remain in first position.

There are internal and external reasons which have combined to create the instability and prolong it. They arise mainly from the partisan mosaic experienced by Tunisians with more than 200 political parties and insufficient time offered by the ten year transition period to go from loose pluralism to the institutionalisation of the permanent party system. Moreover, there are power struggles between movements which are different in their references, visions and programmes; some are extreme, and there is also a lack of knowledge about managing public affairs, not to mention the economic crisis which Tunisians seem unable to contain. Not even one strategic project has been inaugurated since the fall of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s regime in 2011.

READ: Tunisia is torn between a reading of the constitution and the death of politics

If the allegations are true that Ennahda was responsible for the assassination of Mohamed Brahmi MP and the leftist leader Shukri Belaid, then this means there is a hit squad in the movement which is more dangerous than the secular groups which long for the return of the old regime and its deep state. It also means that the moderation and modernising of Ennahda failed to prevent the effects of the empowerment theory and secret apparatus. The movement also failed to ensure that Tunisia’s national priorities and the people did not take priority over itself and the Islamic nation.

Some signs from the debate in Tunisia indicate what can be described as a setback in Ennahda’s political rhetoric and behaviour, perhaps driven by the successes achieved by Turkey in Syria, Iraq, the Eastern Mediterranean, Libya and Bab Al-Mandab. In its modern civil discourse, Ennahda was keeping up with the rise of the Justice and Development Party in Turkey, and its conciliatory approaches between Islam and secular democracy, with no foreign policy problems. Will Ennahda now follow suit as Turkey moves from soft diplomacy to a coarser version, and as it maximises religious-sectarian aspects in its discourse — the Hagia Sophia is an example — as well as the destruction of secular castles? There is also a need to consider the tendency for an authoritative presidential system to replace the parliamentary system that has existed for decades.

Tunisia's Ennahda party flag

Tunisia’s Ennahda party flag [File photo]

We cannot understand the crisis in Tunisia in isolation from the wider conflict between competing regional axes. Ennahda is not the only movement that is encouraged by the successes of a particular regional axis, from which it gets financial, moral and media assistance. There are other forces and parties, affiliated with the secular civil movement, which feed from another regional axis, and receives financial, moral and media aid from support networks provided by the countries of that axis as well.

READ: Tunisia faces hard tests to protect its democracy

President Kais Saied’s battle to save the state and distance it from the “Axes Wars”, as well as his attempts to blunt the sharp points evident in the statements and actions of local rivals, are not easy, especially in light of regional polarisation. He talked about measures against Ennahda and criticised the obstruction of the parliament by the Free Constitution group. He attacked all sides, and has received blows back from all of them, the latest of which was the Arab Brotherhood which seems convinced now that its gamble on benefiting from the elected president was not a safe one.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Addustour on 27 July 2020

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.