With Suspended Constituent Assembly
Political Crisis Takes A New Turn In Tunisia
08 August, 2013
Political crisis in Tunisia has taken a new turn as the activities of the National Constituent Assembly have been suspended.
Media reports from Tunisia said:
Mustpha Ben Jaafar, speaker of the NCA, announced the suspension of the body’s activities on August 6, 2013 in a speech addressing the current political crisis in the country. However, the decision has been harshly criticized by the ruling Islamist party Ennahdha, the Tunisian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.
“I announce the suspension of the activities of the NCA until dialogue starts again,” he said. “This decision is taken for the sake of Tunisia, and to ensure the democratic transition takes place.”
He called on “political leaders to use their powers to influence the parties in conflict to participate in dialogue.
Ben Jaafar is a member of Ettakatol, one of the three parties in the ruling Troika coalition. But Ennahdha that leads the coalition condemned the decision.
Ennahdha NCA member Nejib Mrad denounced the decision to suspend NCA activities, describing it as a “coup d’etat.”
“Ben Jaafar’s announcement is a participation in the coup d’etat led by opposition. We might consider disposing Ben Jaafar from his position and electing a new president for the NCA,” he told. ”He made the decision on his own without consulting the other members and he violated the laws of the NCA.”
Constitutional law professor Kais Said argued that the decision to suspend the activities of the NCA is illegal.
Lazhar Akremi, member of the opposition Nidaa Tounes party, told the NCA speaker’s decision reflects the current political strife in the country.
“Ben Jaafar’s speech serves as an affirmation of the gravity of the situation. Unlike what Ennahdha is claiming, the political situation is not reassuring,” he said.
Akremi felt, however, that Ben Jaafar’s action “did not alleviate the tension but will deepen the crisis.”
“We will only participate in the dialogue when the government is dissolved and there is a willingness to form a salvation government. That is the dialogue we will participate in,” Akremi asserted.
The Leagues for Protection of Revolution (LPR) reacted to Ben Jaafar’s announcement by calling on its members to protest the decision, which they also described as a “coup d’etat carried out by traitors.”
Fadhel Moussa, a withdrawn NCA member from al-Massar party, stated that the decision is the result of pressure from the Bardo sit-in, but will not be effective unless the government is dissolved.
“The decision to suspend the activities of the NCA came later than expected. It would have been better if he made the decision earlier; dialogue and negotiations would have been possible. It is not enough to suspend the activities. The internal regulations should be changed,” said Moussa.
He added, “dialogue will only start when the government resigns. That is the demand and that is the guarantee.”
Citing analysts and politicians a Reuters report from Tunis said:
The suspension of the NCA could bring the birthplace of the Arab Spring uprisings closer to an "Egyptian scenario" in which the secular opposition topples an Islamist-led government.
The biggest shock to the Ennahda may be that the latest blow came from one of its own secular allies - a sign of rising polarization between Islamist and secular forces.
"This is a win for the opposition. It moved the crisis inside the coalition government," said analyst Nourdine Mbarki.
"The Egypt scenario is not far off and seems quite possible if the crisis continues," said Tunisian political analyst Sofian Ben Farhat, though he said Tunisia's army was unlikely to help.
Historically it has not intervened in politics, as Egypt's army has on several occasions.
"Freezing the assembly along with mass protests could reshuffle the political playing cards and lead us into a new and more dangerous turn in the crisis if the opposition and the government continue their stubbornness," Ben Farhat said.
"The mass mobilization and Ben Jaafar's decision will quickly bring us to what happened in Egypt," said Sofian Chouarbi, an opposition activist who rose to prominence in the 2011 revolt that sent former President Zin al-Abidine Ben Ali fleeing into exile in Saudi Arabia.
"The opposition stepped up its pressure and Ben Jaafar responded."
Tunisians are struggling with the same issues that countries like Egypt face - how to respect the results of free elections and respond to popular discontent and impatience with economic stagnation, high unemployment and a steep fall in tourism.
Adding to tensions is the bitter competition between secular opposition groups and the Islamist parties that rose to power in popular elections.
Though Ennahda denies any interest in imposing Islamic law, the opposition is wary. It also says Ennahda has been soft on Islamist militants suspected of assassinating the two leftist opposition figures.
Ennahda leaders are playing down the seriousness of the parliament suspension and say instead it will help them get the opposition to reach a compromise through talks.
"This decision hasn't weakened Ennahda but rather will force the opposition to start talks," said Ennahda politician Lotfi Zeitoun. "I expect dialogue will start soon after the Eid holiday (on August 8) and the Assembly won't stay frozen long."
That may be wishful thinking - if anything, the opposition appears to think the suspension justifies its hardline stance.
In a sign of the potential for more violence, activists of the "Committee to Protect the Revolution" have clashed with anti-government protesters in the past few weeks.
An earlier report said:
Tens of thousands of Tunisians from across the country joined the anti-government sit-in on August 6-night to commemorate the six-month anniversary of Chokri Belaid’s assassination and demand the dissolution of the government and National Constituent Assembly (NCA).
Belaid, an outspoken opposition progressive politician, was assassinated February 6 outside his home in Tunis.
Withdrawn NCA members and opposition politicians from the Popular Front coalition and the Nidaa Tounes party marched with protesters to the NCA building in Bardo. Union figures and civil society representatives also participated in the March.
The Popular Front, of which Belaid was a member, planned the event. The National Salvation Front, a coalition of parties and civil society organizations calling for the dissolution of the government, participated in its organization.
Both Belaid and Brahmi’s widows, Basma Khalfaoui and Mbarka Brahmi who have been supportive of the Bardo sit-in, took part in the march and denounced the government’s failure to hasten the investigations and apprehend the killers of the two men.
Estimates of last night’s attendance varied, but the numbers were large. According to radio station Mosaique FM, approximately 150,000 people were mobilized for the event. State news agency TAP said that over 100,000 people attended. The Nawaat website said that around 95,000 people were there, using an image to estimate.
An anti-government tweet by a user named Lilly said: “It doesn’t matter how many people showed up for the event, what is important is that people will never forget Chokri Belaid.”
Weld El Monji tweeted: “At Bardo we do not celebrate el-Eid, we celebrate Belaid.”
“Despite the dangerous situation, instead of bringing people closer, political parties chose their own interests over national ones,” said Ben Jaafar said in an address to the nation.
“Tunisians are sick of politics,” he said. “We need stability.”
The NCA was elected in October 2011 following the January 2011 removal of president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Ennahdha won 89 seats in the 217 seat-assembly.
As of now, Ennahdha controls eight out of 25 ministry positions, including the prime minister, Ali Laarayadh. Twelve of the ministers are independents. The NCA and the presidency are controlled by Ennahdha’s coalition partners, Ettaketol and Congress for the Republic.
The Bardo protest is ten days old, with government supporters holding their own parallel demonstrations each night in front of the assembly. While at times matching the opposition, the pro-government side has largely struggled to match their enthusiasm at Bardo.
Yusra Ghannouchi, a spokesperson for the party and daughter of Ennahdha’s head Rached Ghannouchi, has indicated that Ennahdha would consider the removal of prime minister Laarayedh as part of a deal.
The opposition has rejected Ennahdha’s overtures thus far.
Responding to the Rached Ghannouchi’s Reuters interview, Lazher Akermi, a spokesperson for Nidaa Tounes, a leading opposition party, refused the invitation for dialogue.
Negotiations are said to be continuing through mediation between Ennahdha and opposition parties, according to Zoubeir Chehoudi, a member of Ennahdha’s Shura Council, the body that determines the party’s policy positions.
The opposition’s rally marking the six-month anniversary of Chokri Belaid raised slogan: “After half a year, why are you hiding the truth?” The slogan suggests that while Ennahdha continues to float concessions, the opposition remains firm in their demands.
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