Can Tunisia Resolve Its Deepening Political Crisis?

Published March 8th, 2021 - 08:17 GMT
Supporters of the Islamist Ennahdha party wave flags
Supporters of the Islamist Ennahdha party wave national and party flags during a demonstration in support of the Tunisian government on February 27, 2021 in the capital Tunis. FETHI BELAID / AFP
President Kais Saied wants the resignation of Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi before starting a national dialogue suggested by the trade unions to end the current crisis.

Veteran Tunisian politician Mustapha Ben Jaafar is calling for national reconciliation as part of  a new initiative aimed at resolving the deepening political crisis in the country.

Ben Jaafar, who had served as the president of the constituent assembly in Tunisia during the period between 2011 and 2014,  said Tunisia could witness in the coming period an eruption of new crises due to the “time bombs” ticking everywhere.

He said in a post on his Facebook page, “The national dialogue of 2013 brought us together to achieve a common goal for which we were elected, which is to ratify the constitution that was drafted by everyone without exception.”

He added, “Let us make the goal of dialogue in the coming days not only to overcome the current crisis, but to embark on a comprehensive national reconciliation to get rid of the deep causes that are like time bombs threatening to erupt into the next crises.”

As a result constitutional impasse over prerogatives between President Kais Saied and Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, the cabinet reshuffle crisis in Tunisia has ended its fifth week without any signs of resolution in sight, despite the existence of many initiatives that aim to launch a national dialogue, that is blocked by the preconditions set by both sides, the president and the prime minister.

President Kais Saied wants the resignation of Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi before starting a national dialogue suggested by the trade unions to end the current crisis.

Many parties are also advocating for a discussion of possible change in the nature of the regime, whether through a popular referendum or otherwise.

But the wide gap in positions has further deepened the crisis. Islamist Ennahda Movement would like to hold on to Mechichi as head of government as well as to the current system of government, which is a modified parliamentary system.

Secretary-General of the Tunisian General Labour Union Noureddine Taboubi said, Friday, that “According to the indications we have,  President Kais Saied insists on the resignation of Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi from his position in order for the national dialogue proposed by the labour unions to start.”

Taboubi holds the three presidencies responsible for the crisis that Tunisia faces. “The three presidents are responsible for the crisis in the country and the head of state needs to specify the names of the ministers that are suspected of corruption and to accept the swearing-in of the rest of the cabinet members.”

“We cannot ask the prime minister to resign,” Taboubi told Tunisian newspaper Assabah.

Ennahda, which leads the parties supporting the government of Hichem Mechichi, rejects calls for his resignation.

Many political analysts in Tunisia believe that the conditions are not ripe for national dialogue or for a genuine reconciliation process, especially in light of the escalation of the crisis between the president and the prime minister.

MP Hatem Mliki said, “The parties that may lead the dialogue do not agree today even on the major topics of this dialogue and the mandatory nature of its possible outcomes. The government crisis has interfered with the dialogue and disrupted it.”

Mliki also told The Arab Weekly that finding a political solution to the crisis has become “the focus of the national dialogue instead of economic and social issues “.

He added, “In my belief, the big obstacle is the government crisis…. it is better for Hichem Mechichi to take a national stand by tendering his government’s resignation.”

Many political forces have rejected proposals for dialogue and reconciliation as they will not bring anything new.

Mohsen Nabti, the official spokesperson for Attayar Ach-Chaabi (the Popular Trend) told The Arab Weekly, “These politicians (referring to Mustafa Ben Jaafar) have become accustomed to using such vague words. “What is the meaning of national reconciliation? We are not in a civil war. The only national reconciliation that benefits Tunisia is the peaceful exit of the gang that rules the country and has destroyed Tunisians. ”

He added, “Unfortunately, some political parties maintain their political presence by trying to save the Brotherhood through terms such as national reconciliation.”

“The only solution for these people is to leave peacefully to let the people decide their fate,” Nabti added. “In the meantime, a transitional government should be established to stop paying debts and embark on reforms in Tunisia until elections are held, and of course after the dissolution of parliament and the departure of the current government.”

Nabti’s suggestions seem highly implausible and a reflection of the sharp polarisation of positions. Most of the country’s factitious political class does not show much  interest in national reconciliation today despite the fact that multiple crises are pushing the country to the brink of insolvency.

Many Islamists and secularists view national reconciliation as a trojan horse through which their rivals aim to achieve a hidden political agenda and not to build a bridge to domestic peace.

According to the analysts, the notion of reconciliation itself is perceived by some of the political actors as just an obstacle to their ultimate priority: Settling scores with their political nemeses and getting ready for the 2024 elections.

This article has been adapted from its original source.

© 2021-2021 The Arab Weekly. All rights reserved.

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