Tunisia – Another Way Forward
It does indeed seem a long time ago since I sat in an Italian restaurant just outside Tunis watching the fall of the Morsi government on TV. With me, excited young Tunisian trade unionists gave me a running interpretation of the Arabic broadcast. They were utterly jubilant and could not understand the concerns I expressed about the nature of the government’s fall.
Tragically in the intervening months a great many people have lost their lives in Egypt on both sides of the political divide, with no obvious end to the conflict. These events have impacted elsewhere not least in Tunisia.
Like Egypt a great swathe of secularist Tunisians had found their new democratic government dominated by an Islamist party – although in Tunisia the Islamist Ennahda party led a coalition rather than ruled in its own right. Like Egypt, many of Tunisia’s secularists have resented what they see as a creeping Islamisation of the state, albeit in their private lives they may see themselves as devout muslims. The mass demonstrations were undoubtedly a major factor in bringing down Morsi’s government and many Tunisians have embraced such action as a form of ‘direct Arab democracy’. For all of these similarities there are however differences.
A key difference, as pointed out to me by Tunisians, is the role of the military in Tunisian politics. It has, unlike in Egypt, largely kept out of politics and indeed does not have the same status in the country as it does in Egypt. Tunisia is also one of, if not the, most secular of Arab countries. These differences together with the experience of Egypt, has meant the great political divide seems to be creating a different outcome in Tunisia.
The Ennahda party and the National Salvation Front-led opposition have stepped back from the abyss. They have agreed to hold further negotiations on the formation of a new technocratic caretaker government of independents who will oversee new elections. Interestingly and as a matter of some pride, these negotiations are being mediated by the TUC’s sister Tunisian trade union confederation the UGTT.
Tunisia has not been without its problems and one should remember there has been violence e.g. the murder of opposition politician Mohammed Brahmi in July. Nevertheless, it would seem that the division within Tunisian society and politics may be resolved by dialogue rather than violence. No doubt there is still a long way to go but let us wish the Tunisian people well in their endeavours.