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CATCHING UP

Two years ago, the domino effect of the spring uprising in Tunisia toppled the dictatorships in Egypt and Libya. This time, Tunisia seems to be the recipient of a reverse domino impact as it becomes victim to the same kind of post-revolutionary turmoil that is assailing its neighbours. The sudden assassination of Tunisia’s secular Opposition leader, Chokri Belaid, has exposed the country’s faultlines which lay hidden while the country stridently progressed along the democratic path, electing in 2011 a coalition government under the moderately Islamist Ennahda party. Belaid’s murder has brought into the open not only the tension between the moderates and hardliners among the coalition partners, but also within the Ennahda party. It has also brought to the fore the insecurities of a people who have witnessed the gradual and uncontrolled advance of radical Salafists through steady attacks on symbols of the minority faith and Western interests — a trend already well-established in Tunisia’s neighbours. The Ennahda party, despite its efforts to reconcile Islamism with nation-building, now finds it hard to defend itself against accusations of facilitating the murder by failing to act against the ascendant extremist forces in the country. The prime minister, Hamadi Jebali, had offered to compensate by replacing several ministers with technocrats in order to pave the way for smooth elections and the eventual passing of a Constitution. But he has been checkmated by his party, which does not believe in kowtowing to the Opposition. The step has not gone down well with Ennahda’s partners, one of which has pulled out its ministers from the government. In the coming days, Ennahda can see itself being further villainized if it makes no effort to reach a compromise with its political allies.

Ennahda’s leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, does not believe that the party should bend over backwards to please, and in more normal times he may have been right in holding on to such a righteous position. Unfortunately, he may not be able to easily exonerate his party of the suspicions that are being fanned by the remnants of the old order. This is particularly true since a badly performing economy and the ill-reformed police and justice system give no immediate opportunity to Ennahda to take credit for its performance. Ennahda has to be more flexible in order to preserve whatever headway Tunisia has made in the last two years.