A Turning Point in Tunisia's Transition

According to the renowned Tunisian academic and intellectual Amel Grami, the two-pronged policy being pursued by the Islamist Ennahda party under the leadership of Rachid Ghannouchi threatens to split Tunisian society in two and push the revolution to the brink of the abyss

By Amel Grami

Leading representatives of Tunisian society and the various groups within it have been warned time and again about the consequences of a spread of the phenomenon of violence in all its forms – verbal, physical and symbolic. To date, however, no one has acted on these warnings.

The government has taken the issue of security lightly and has searched for ever new justifications for what is currently happening in the country.

Violence as a political means

Now we have reached the point where violence is being used as a political means, as was the case in the murders of the politician Lotfi Naguedh and the courageous Chokri Belaid.

It was impossible not to hear the loud expressions of grief at Belaid's funeral, grief that was voiced by people of both genders and of all skin colours, origins and party membership. The heated atmosphere has given way to sincere condolence and deep sympathy.

Amel Grami is of the opinion that Rachid Ghannouchi and his governing Ennahda party bear the main responsibility for the current crisis in Tunisia: "As long as a legal scholar and not a "statesman" holds the reins of state, Ennahda's only success will be to drag the country deeper into crisis and to isolate itself both domestically and abroad," she writes

​​But what happens next? What comes after this political attack? What has the assassination of Belaid shown us and what conclusions can we draw from it?

Firstly, how can the Ennahda party – the de facto power in the governing coalition – improve its image and stand for a policy that really convinces the people instead of just continuing its two-pronged discourse of presenting itself to the outside world as a representative of "moderate and modern Islam" while at the same time using all means to try and force through its agenda?

The current situation necessitates the admission of mistakes and the search for a way out of a situation that sees religion being exploited for political ends. It would now be worthwhile to assume moral responsibility and to accept that Ennahda is not at present in a position to convince the majority of the people of its allegedly moderate policy and the modernity of its agenda.

It needs think tanks that will closely examine the political direction taken thus far and draw up plans for the future. This should not happen in order to achieve hegemony over the state and its institutions, but to play a role in building up the future nation as a partner, not as the party that holds the majority stake in the government.

Political re-orientation

Now that the Islamist movements in those countries that spearheaded the Arab Spring have proven themselves to be unfit for government, Ennahda must change its course.

Secondly, how can it be that Rachid Ghannouchi wants to build himself up to be a leadership figure on a par with Habib Bourguiba, the founder of the Tunisian state, while the anger of the people grows from month to month? The most striking proof of this rage were the chants shouted at the memorial services for the martyr Chokri Belaid: "Ya Ghannouchi ya saffáh, ya qattal al-arwáh!" (which roughly translates as "Ghannouchi, you murderer!").

How can someone like Ghannouchi of all people possibly unite the Tunisians? He has dragged up the case of Salah Ben Youssef, who was murdered in 1961, as a means of sullying the reputation of Bourguiba, whom he considers to be his arch enemy.

This tactic quickly backfired because the bond most Tunisians feel with Bourguiba has grown rather than diminished. People are rediscovering his speeches and quoting his sayings. Some recognise the good things that he did and are drawing comparisons between the Bourguiba era's vision of a modern nation state and the state into which the country has slid under Ghannouchi.

Following the assassination of the popular left-wing opposition politician Chokri Belaid, the social climate in Tunisia has deteriorated, leaving gaping chasms between different parts of society

​​Ghannouchi wanted to dispense with the past and smash Bourguiba's image into smithereens. Instead of simply carving out his own path and leaving Bourguiba's legacy alone, Ghannouchi has become fixated with eradicating the memory of his adversary. For Ghannouchi, Bourguiba is a disruptive factor.

Thirdly, how can a party that is rooted in Islam and that entered the political landscape on the premise that its supporters "know God" and will, therefore, put an end to the desolation that has prevailed in Tunisia as a result of previous regimes, ensure understanding and unity among Tunisians when all it does is divide Tunisians into two camps?

Free game for the Islamists

On the one hand we have Ennahda supporters and Salafists; on the other, "non-believing members of the laity". The pseudo preachers were given free rein to turn the mosques into their playgrounds, to dismiss as infidels intellectuals, artists and those working in the media and to declare democracy activists and freedom fighters to be free game.

Ennahda party leader Rachid Ghannouchi has justified the actions of the Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution and declared them to be the "active conscience of the people". He declared Salafist attacks on individual and collective freedoms to be isolated cases.

Fourthly, how can President Moncef Marzouki convince the Tunisian people of his policy and restore his reputation? He is no longer respected and has become a figure of fun for the Facebook community. Young people laugh at his facial expressions and post his confused and hilarious statements on the web. One example of such a situation was when he recently rolled out the red carpet for preachers who declared intellectuals and religious minorities to be infidels, militias who are beating the country to within an inch of its life and Salafists who are spreading the message of jihad.

Fifthly, how can the governing three-party coalition convince the people that it should and must continue given the existence of a complex political crisis and the fact that Tunisians have lost faith in their leading representatives, especially in the members of the constitutional assembly, which is heavily criticised for its poor work, its greed and the thoughtless way it has dealt with the country's interests?

The silence of the left-wing parties

How can a cobbled-together troika such as this continue when it symbolises the hegemony of Ennahda over its coalition partners and when there is such a definite imbalance between its members? And what about the two left-wing parties, the Congrès de la République Party and Ettakatol, which tried to convince us that they only joined the coalition to put right-wing forces in their place? Well, Ennahda has succeeded in bending its two coalition partners to its will.

Sixthly, how can the constitution of the country still be written in the spirit of harmony now that the Prime Minister has announced that he intends to rebel against Rachid Ghannouchi, by the grace of God Tunisia's ruler, and in view of the fact that his attempts to save the transition process by steering it towards the shores of democracy have caused a complicated political crisis?

How can this constitution become a constitution for all Tunisians when the fabric of society is in tatters, polarisation is taking on increasingly extreme forms, threats to murder and eradicate opponents are being made, Salafist groups across the country are setting themselves up as district guardians, "Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution" are roaming the country and Ennahda militias are instilling fear and terror into people's hearts?

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki has become a figure of fun for the younger generation. Says Amel Grami: "Young people laugh at his facial expressions and post his confused and hilarious statements on the web. One example of such a situation was when he recently rolled out the red carpet for preachers who declared intellectuals and religious minorities to be infidels, militias who are beating the country to within an inch of its life and Salafists who are spreading the message of jihad"

​​The only way out of the predicament in which we find ourselves is to see the murder of Chokri Belaid as a turning point that makes it absolutely essential to look at both ourselves and others in a completely different light and to deal with political opponents and the various civil society groups in a completely new way.

We should really be able to expect political players – especially those who are part of the government and bear responsibility for the transition process – to have the courage and the ability to see things the way they are and speak openly and honestly, saying that that which is to come must be fundamentally different from that which was.

The situation requires the admission of mistakes. The biggest mistake was that the Ennahda party thought that it would be able to lead the country in accordance with its belief that it was the chosen party and, accordingly, that its supporters were closest to God, its ministers immune to corruption and that it would become the "greatest government in history".

Not the only "engineer of change"

The time has come for this party to finally get down off its high horse and work with other political players out of a position of responsibility for the success of the transition process. After all, it is only one partner among many in the development process and not the only "engineer of change".

Similarly, all those leading personalities in Ennahda who have difficulty separating their roles as preachers and politicians (such as Rachid Ghannouchi, Habib Ellouz, Sadiq Chourou, Noureddine El Khademi, etc.), should bow out of politics and focus their full attention on missionary or charity work if that is what they want to do.

Unfortunately, over the past two years, they have quite clearly shown themselves to have the mentality of an Islamic scholar speaking to the community of the faithful rather than the mentality of a politician who has dedicated himself to serving the people, regardless of their gender, religious orientation, or convictions ...

As long as there is no clear differentiation between these roles and as long as a legal scholar and not a "statesman" holds the reins of state, Ennahda's only "achievement" will be to drag the country deeper into crisis and to isolate itself both domestically and abroad.

All of this is happening against the backdrop of an opposition that is currently closing its ranks and lacks both the financial wherewithal and the strength to mobilise the marginalised and the young, who no longer believe that there is a way out of the crisis.

Amel Grami

© Qantara.de 2013

Amel Grami is Professor of Equal Opportunities and Intercultural Studies at the University of Manouba, Tunisia.

Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan

Editor: Lewis Gropp/Qantara.de