Political deal in a divided Tunisia

By Marjon Goetinck,  MEDEA Institute

After three months of negotiating, Ennahda has signed a deal with the opposition parties in an attempt to overcome the political impasse. Mehdi Jomaa, who was Minister of Industry until recently, was appointed Prime Minister of the interim government on December 14th. It’s his responsibility to put together an independent government of technocrats within 14 days, who will govern the country until the elections next year (the date has not been determined). To what extend could this compromise help reverse the downward spiral Tunisia is going through?

Tunisia is after all facing a deep political and social crisis since the political assassinations of the two leftists’ opposition leaders Chokri Belaïd in February and Mohammed Brahmi in July of this year. Although the killings have not been claimed, the opposition has discredited Ennahda by accusing them, as the largest party in the country of being primarily responsible for the lack of security and public order. [1]

Very little has been achieved the past two years: unemployment rates are still towering, inflation rises, corruption is still undermining the administration, the country is on the brick of an economic collapse, the process to finalize the constitution has stalled and even worse, the freedom and security of the Tunisians is more than ever threatened.[2] The country remains fragile and divided.


Mehdi Jomaa, new Prime Minister of Tunisia. Source; REUTERS/Anis Mili/Files


Inspired by the Egyptian Tamarod movement, thousands of protesters came to the streets in August and September to demand the resignation of the government and the dissolution of the National Constituent Assembly. After the revolution, during the elections of 2011, the Constituent Assembly was set up to draft the new constitution of Tunisia. Although the Tunisian constitution was expected to be ready after one year, not much has been realized the past two years.

The months of wrangling about political legitimacy between the opposition and the government resulted in a national dialogue to get Tunisia out of the crisis.[3] The roadmap drawn in this context stipulates that one of the tasks of Mehdi Jomaa is to form an independent government and to reconcile the Tunisian population with politics. Last Saturday the leader of Ennahda, Rached Ghannouchi confirmed that his party has agreed “to hand over the power and sacrifice (our) government to bring Tunisia on the path of democracy and complete the transition.”[4]

Although the majority of the Ennahda supporters cling to the gains of the revolution, the top leaders of Ennahda adopt a more pragmatic approach. Strengthened by the alarming lessons learned from the coup in Egypt, they are more inclined to compromise and to adopt a long-term vision.[5] Nidaa Tounes however, did not accept the designation of Mehdi Jomaa because he belongs to the outgoing government.

Many Tunisians nevertheless, see this political deal as a sign that the national dialogue has not failed. The major challenge will be to hold elections as soon as possible, so that it becomes clear how the power relations are between the different parties. This is necessary to ensure the stabilization of the country and to regain the trust at the national and the international level.

Since the ousting of Ben Ali, the country is looking for a new political order and the Tunisian revolution is not yet complete. The success of failure of this process of transition will undoubtly depend on the overall strategy of the political reform aspects and procedural matters such as finalizing the constitution, organizing new elections and ensuring transitional justice and institutional reform.

[1] La Tunisie est dirigée par une coalition tripartite (Ennahda et deux petites formations, le parti de centre gauche Ettakatol et le parti laïc du président Moncef Marzouki, le Congrès pour la République).

[2] « Tunisie : le salut par le dialogue national », Choukri Hmed, 18 december 2013, Libération http://www.liberation.fr/monde/2013/12/17/tunisie-le-salut-par-le-dialogue-national_967209

[3] De nationale dialoog verenigt parlementaire krachten en een “kwartet” dat bestaat uit extraparlementaire krachten, namelijk de UGTT (l’Union Générale des Travailleurs Tunisiens), de Tunesische Vakbond voor de Industrie, de Handel en de Nijverheden (UTICA), de Tunesische Liga voor de Mensenrechten en de orde van de Advocaten.

[4] «Un nouveau premier ministre pour une Tunisie désillusionnée»,  Thibaut Cavaillès, Le Figaro, 15 december 2013,http://www.lefigaro.fr/international/2013/12/15/01003-20131215ARTFIG00094

[5] « Tunesia’s Transition Continues », Monica Marks, 16 december 2013, Foreign Policiy http://mideastafrica.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/12/16/tunisias_transition_continues