A Failure, a Resignation, and the New Tunisian Prime Minister

 

United States Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta meets with Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali in Tunis, Tunisia, July 29, 2012.Photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo, some rights reserved by Secretary of Defense

United States Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta meets with Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali in Tunis, Tunisia, July 29, 2012.
Photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo, some rights reserved by Secretary of Defense

Tunisia has often been heralded as an exception to the social and political chaos that plagues the region. The Jasmine Revolutions that took place there catalyzed the region’s Arab Spring Revolutions. The country’s relative lack of instability after the revolution was considered a success. However, the political assassination of the left opposition’s Chokri Belaid has replaced praises with growing anxieties.

The first free elections in the history of the country elected Hamadi Jebali, member of the Islamist Ennahda party, who took office in December 2011. After being in power for 14 months, the prime minister officially resigned last week. Jebali announced his decision after the failure of his project to create a new united government of technocrats.

Jebali played double jeopardy and lost. In an interview with Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki, Jebali announced “I had promised that in case of the failure of my initiative, I would resign and…. I’ve already done it.” After his announcement, he maintained, “the confidence [of the people] must be restored.” After suffering from political instability, he reaffirmed that an “apolitical government is the best way to lift the country out of uncertainty.”

He announced his proposal to create a nonpartisan government of experts following the death of Belaid in attempts to end the country’s political crisis. Jebali’s attempts to compromise drew criticism—mainly from his own party, Ennahda. The prime minister had not consulted the stringent party regarding this proposed program.

After multiple days of secret negotiations, Jebali recognized that the principal political actors in the talks were unsuccessful in reaching a compromise on a neutral governing power. With a serious unemployment problem and continued disenfranchised regions, this failure has only added to the recent state of stagnant incertitude—with unanswered questions about the next election and a deadlock on the drafting of the Constitution by the National Constituent Assembly, or l’Assemblée nationale constituante (ANC).

While the opposition and secular allies of Ennahda are insistent that the top ministries be regulated by independents, the Islamist party announced last week that it is ready, despite disowning Jebali from the party, to compromise. “All stable government in Tunisia needs a moderate coalition composed of both Islamists and secularists,” declared the head of Ennahda Rached Ghannouchi. However, after the assassination and the resignation, the goal is proving harder to achieve.

Ennahda leaders have been arduously trying to find a replacement, convening the Majlis al-Choura, the consultative body of Ennahda. The spokesman of the party, Najib Gharbi, announced the four candidates as Jebali’s successor, including Ali Larayedh (current Minister of the Interior), Mohamed Ben Salem (Minister of Agriculture), Noureddine Bhiri (Minister of Justice), and Abdellatif Mekki (Minister of Health). The Majlis al-Choura opted for Ali Larayedh to replace Jebali.

Larayedh suffered greatly during Ben Ali’s crackdown on Islamists. He spent fourteen years in jail, ten of which were in isolation, and suffered physical and psychological torture—even being threatened to be infected with AIDS. At the beginning of his incarceration, him and his wife were even subjected to a fabricated pornographic film—created by the regime—showing Larayedh with another man in his cell. Released in late 2004, Larayedh participated in the opposition against Ben Ali and obtained power in the Ministry of the Interior after the 2011 elections.

Critics claim that he was not successful enough in curbing political violence in the state. Considered “a man of dialogue,” Larayedh is known to avoid conflict—both within and out of the party. He is also accused of laxity towards jihadists and of failing to protect the U.S. embassy attack in September. While the world and Tunisians wait, breaths suspended, attempts to establish a modern, secular, and, most importantly, a neutral government continue. While giving up can never be a viable option for an entire country, Jebali’s resignation sends a clear message to the people of his country and the members of his party. If Tunisia is to be a trailblazer and to continue to set an example for its neighbors, compromise between the different social factions is necessary, and a neutral nonpartisan government is the key to stability.

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  1. […] into the February assassination of opposition activist Chokri Belaïd. On March 5, the new Prime Minister Ali Larayedh announced that the alleged suspect had been identified as a Tunisian from the Jedouba […]

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