Libya-Tunisia: Its Chaos But Its 'Different' Chaos!

Published July 5th, 2022 - 11:05 GMT
Tunis and Libya are becoming two sides of the same coin

In north Africa there is a real sense of déjà vu. Nowhere is this more so than in Tunisia and of course, Libya. These two countries have even beaten Egypt, Algeria and Morocco who have huddled along in the past years regardless of their political hiccups, fratricidal tendencies and protests amidst regionwide Israeli normalization process.

Libya first 

Libya refuses to get back on the strait path, if that is the correct term to use. Despite the talk about uniting the country, the international backing to do so and the stream of UN dialogue, literally, here, there and everywhere, in Germany, Switzerland, in Morocco's Tangier and Egypt, the country refuses to stand up on its own two feet.

Its as if they are happy with what they have, two governments, two parliaments, multiple militias as well as an army, yet politicians, officials, MPs, prefer to stay where they are. Sitting parliaments in Tripoli and Tobruk, west and east of the country are turning out to be a convenient de facto affair. Last week, people registered a kind of "mini-Arab Spring protests" when they stormed the Tobruk parliament and set it on fire due to standard-of-living frustrations and to unfulfilled promises that were/are never honored. 

Take for example the elections that were supposed to take place last 24 December. The date came and went without lifting an eyelid. Officials just cancelled the polls which everybody was talking about all these previous months, they just said Libya was "organizationally" not ready and needed more time. The fact this was agreed upon under UN auspices was neither here nor there for the country was still wrapped around two governments and two administration that have been created after Arab Spring revolutions of 2011.

The problem with Libya is that the mentality of division has long been entrenched in the society and how do you get rid of that. Politicians with cushy jobs on both sides of the divide are perfectly happy where they are!

Tunisia Next!

Next is Tunisia. Once the successful bride of the Arab Spring revolutions it now lies in the midst of a huge stalemate. If it stays as it is, it will be no worse than its much larger sister-country Libya and that would set it for a big headache down the road.

If the Tunisian president Kais Saied continues on the present path, he might find himself in a middle of a war path he can't contain for society is already split and fractured on different political and social divisions, capped by the present 57 sacked judges who are protesting with a number of them already on strike. It will not last long before the seething street blows up in his face many predict, that's if it hasn't done so already. Saied however is a man of determination and power. 

For Tunisia as well, this is only the beginning of the story. With Libya you have different strongmen like Khalifa Hafter, Fathi Bashagha in the east and Abdelhamid Dabiebeh in the west who for all intense and purposes represent different fractional interests and domestic and outside backers. In terms of territory they are effectively two states who are trying to get back together but with no apparent success.

With Saied in Tunisia it is rather different. He sees himself as a modernizer, a developer, a man who wants to move forward but in actual fact, he is a controller, he wants to take it from the top and establish his hegemony over the rest of society and polity which he already started to since he took over power on 25 July 2021 in what many call a coup by dismissing parliament, government and choosing to rule by decree. 

Since then he attempted to introduce "slow" changes and wants to change the political system, but many critics say what he wants is to consolidate his power and create a presidential system in which he would be the final decision-maker and arbiter. As evidence of this, he has already called on a team of legal experts to draw up a new constitution in the country. This is a document that will be put to a referendum to be voted on by Tunisians on the same day he made the power-grab on 25 July.

One thing that turned out to be interesting is the man who drew up the new constitution Sadeq Belaid, later renounced the constitutional document by saying it is not the one he wrote and what he is looking at is a blueprint that "could pave the way for a dictatorial regime" as it concentrates too much power into the hands of the president, he can appoint government, ministers and judges, he can fire people and waters down the role of parliament as he pleases.

Many argue thus, Saied is going back to the rule of Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali who ruled Tunisia for 23 years and only left in late 2010 after the country's Jasmine Revolution which forced the dictator out. Should Saied be considering the situation for after all, Ben Ali was forced out because he neglected the poor and wouldn't find jobs for the country's young people. The situation today is no different. Tunisia faces an economic crisis with rampant inflation and high unemployment. 

Saied keeps promising that he will fix things and is in the middle of negotiations with the IMF to secure a $4 billion loan that could help the country out of its crisis but time is running out. Of course, he doesn't want to believe that and he is under continuing illusions about fixing the country but what he has done since last year is to alienate major sections of society. 

One of the major changes in the new constitution is to relegate Islam as a religion of state. Its been argued that there is no need for that because Tunisia is already a Muslim country with a nation of the same religion. There would be no reference to Islam as there was in the 2014 Constitution as stated that the country is "a free, independent and sovereign state, Islam is its religion and Arabic is its language". Belaid says the aim is to end extremism in the country which is taken as a code word for squeezing Ennahada, an Islamist movement that dominated parliament in the last 10 years.

The situation in Tunisia remains fluid however. After 25 July the president will continue to rule by decree to December when hopefully elections will be held and parliament recalled. However, and under the new constitution, Saied is actively thinking about regional assemblies that would provide a counterweight to parliament. However, it early days yet to think about that yet!  

Sharp differences

 Libya and Tunisia are two very different countries, yet they are ending up in the same boat. They, and probably for Tunisia since Saied won elections in 2019, are facing chaotic scenes intermeshed with power-struggles, differing interests rising ideologies and thought coupled with militarism, factionalism and persistence militias. 

Obviously, Tunisia is supposed to be the opposite of Libya because of the political set up, wider context and competing elites but the objectives are the same, continuing rule of essentially different men and with their way of doing things. 

Both countries are in the midst of a "general crisis". If that is not fixed soon this malaise will continue with deadly consequences, the case being more so in Tunisia because Libya is already used to continuing chaos and the political rulers there can contain it by letting it simmer. In Tunisia who knows how the frequent protests will continue to play out. 

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