The Birthplace of the Arab Spring is Falling Apart
Tunisia was rocked by protests this week as thousands of angry citizens took to the streets to demand the dissolution of the National Constituent Assembly. The Ennahda party, which enjoys a plurality in the legislative body formed after the removal of President Ben Ali from power in 2011, has been blamed for failing to include opposition groups. Tensions have been stoked by the NCA’s failure to finish writing a new constitution, and by recent attacks on the military. Security forces have increased their presence throughout urban centers and along the border with Algeria, claiming to have prevented a political assassination.
The main source of these protests, however, has been the July 25 murder of leftist opposition leader Mohamed Brahmi. His death has sparked a political crisis that traces its roots back to the killing of Chokri Belaid, a fellow opposition leader, earlier this year.
The two were reportedly killed with the same 9-millimeter automatic gun.
Tunisians are frustrated with an assembly whose members have been unable to work across party lines. The Speaker of the NCA, Mustapha Ben Jaafar, put it simply: “Despite the gravity of the situation and instead of working towards unity, party leaders have unfortunately gone in the opposite direction — towards division. The people are fed up with this situation."
Tunisia is in a period of deep governmental and social transition. When the Arab Spring began many prominent political scientists agreed that as affected countries began to shed their autocracies conditions would intensify and likely worsen before they improved. This has certainly been the case throughout North Africa.
In Egypt, a coup and its countermovement are playing out in the streets as a result of the Morsi government’s inability to meet citizen demands. Tunisian party leaders must look to their neighbors in the region for examples of success — and warning signs of instability — if the fledgling democracy is to make good on the promise it made in the early days of the Arab Spring.
For any kind of meaningful political reform to emerge, the powerful Ennahda party should actively encourage moderate and liberal opposition members to participate in drafting a constitution that is a reflection of the will of all Tunisia. The new government must rein in violent crime and terrorism, and better include a wide spectrum of voices.
To take a phrase from the playbook of some of those prominent political scientists, the situation in Tunisia is likely to get worse before it improves.
Al Jazeera has some good coverage of the events below.
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