Tunisia: Islamist-led Government Steps Down
The Islamist led government in Tunisia stepped down after just over two years in power on January 9. The transition to an interim government of technocrats marks the first peaceful handover of power from a democratically elected Islamist party. The negotiation process between the government and opposition starkly contrasts with the Egyptian military’s ousting of President Mohamed Morsi and subsequent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.
Prime Minister Ali Larayedh (left) from the leading Islamist party, Ennahda, resigned as part of an agreement mediated by the Tunisian General Labor Union. “A while ago I promised to resign when the country was on a clear track, when there was a modern constitution and an independent board of elections, which we hope will be held soon, and a new government agreed by consensus to prepare for the elections,” he said at a news conference.
Ennahda was first democratically elected Islamist party to hand over power after the arab uprisings, which was also launched in Tunisia in December 2010. Businessman Mehdi Jomaa will replace Larayedh as a caretaker prime minister. And the Constitutional Assembly has appointed a new commission to supervise elections in 2014. The following is a timeline of the unraveling of Islamist rule in Tunisia since July 2013.
PROTESTS AGAINST ISLAMISTS: Following the assassination of opposition leader Mohamed Brahmi, thousands of Tunisians demonstrated against the Islamist-led government on July 26. Protesters from diverse secular parties shouted "Down with the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood," referring to Ennahda, the Islamist ruling party in Tunisia. The protests force the closure of banks and stores, while all flights from the capital were canceled.
The killing of Brahmi was aimed at “halting Tunisia’s democratic process and killing the only successful model in the region, especially after the violence in Egypt, Syria and Libya,” Ennahda party leader Rachid Ghannouhchi told Reuters. “Tunisia will not follow the Egyptian scenario. We will hold on.”
ISLAMIST OFFICE BURNED DOWN IN UPRISING’S BIRTHPLACE: Just hours after Brahmi’s death, anti-government protestors burned down the Ennahda party’s headquarters in Sidi Bouzid on July 25.
GOVERNMENT BLAMES SALAFIS FOR ASSASSINATION: Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou told journalists that the chief suspect was a Salafi extremist. “The first elements of the investigation show the implication of Boubaker Hakim… The suspects are radical extremists, and some of them belong to Ansar al Sharia,” he said on July 27.
MORE PROTESTS AGAINST ISLAMISTS: Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Tunis on August 7 to demand the Islamist-led government’s resignation. The protest also marked the six-month anniversary of the assassination of prominent leftist politician Chokri Belaid. Demonstrators reportedly chanted, “The people want the regime to fall” and “The government will end today.”
Ennahda party leader Sheikh Rachid al Ghannouchi told French daily La Presse that the government would not give into the “excessive demands” of the opposition. “Unfortunately every time a tragedy hits us, we immediately call for the dissolution of the government and parliament,” said Ghannouchi.
Umbrella opposition group the National Salvation Front (NSF) launched a week-long campaign on August 24 to push the government to resign. About 10,000 protestors attended the opening rally, according to police estimates.
ISLAMISTS AGREE TO TECHNOCRAT GOVERNMENT: On August 26, senior Ennahda official Ameur Larayedh told a local radio station that “a government of independents could be formed” after Tunisians reach an agreement on “the constitution, the electoral law, the body charged with overseeing elections and the three dates of the presidential… and legislative elections.”
TAMAROD CALLS FOR EARLY ELECTIONS: By early September, Tunisia’s Tamarod (Rebel) movement collected some 200,000 signatures demanding the immediate dissolution of the National Constituent Assembly, preservation of an amended version of the 1959 constitution and early presidential elections. Ennahda spokesperson Zoubeyer Chhoudi had previously dismissed the possibility that the elected government could fall after an uprising like in Egypt. “We probably will not have the same scenario since we are very much in line with the democratic process, especially if we can set the date of the upcoming elections,” he told Tunisia Live in July. Tamarod “is a test for our elite and we will see how it goes.”
ENNAHDA AGREES TO STEP DOWN: On September 28, Ennahda became the first democratically elected Islamist party to voluntarily accept a plan to relinquish power. Some party members accused their leaders of giving in to the opposition. Ennahda is “being described as the party of concessions,” former Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalam said a news conference. “We are not ashamed of these concessions because they are needed by Tunisia and to secure our democratic experience so that Tunisia can reach a safe shore.”
In early October, Ennahda agreed on a power transfer with the National Salvation Front-led opposition. They agreed that a caretaker government would supervise new elections. The Tunisian General Labor Union mediated the talks. A national dialogue meant to end the political impasse began on October 25. “The train out of this crisis is on the tracks, and we are now on the way to finishing our transition to elections,” Ghannouchi told reporters.
On December 21, businessman Mehdi Jomaa was named caretaker prime minister after months of difficult negotiations between Ennahda and the secular opposition. Ennahda official Lotfi Zitoun warned that if Jomaa takes too long to form a cabinet, Tunisia “will end up back at square one.” Ennahda’s Ali Larayedh will likely retain the premiership until Jomaa forms a cabinet.
ENNAHDA OFFICES ATTACKED: On October 24, funerals were held for six policeman allegedly killed by jihadists the previous day. Funeral attendees shouted anti-Islamist slogans and even called Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi an “assassin,” according to AFP. Protestors who blamed Ennahda for the killings attacked party offices in two cities. In Beja, west of Tunis, hundreds of protestors reportedly attacked the Ennahda office using rocks and petrol bombs. In the northwestern city of Kef, demonstrators lit the local Ennahda office on fire.
PRIME MINISTER RESIGNS: The Islamist led government in Tunisia stepped down after just over two years in power on January 9, 2014. “A while ago I promised to resign when the country was on a clear track, when there was a modern constitution and an independent board of elections, which we hope will be held soon, and a new government agreed by consensus to prepare for the elections,” Prime Minister Ali Larayedh said at a news conference.
-Tunisia protest Img_0450 by Amine Ghrabi on Flickr
-Ali Larayedh by Arbimaestro Derivate: ELEL09 (Ali Laarayedh.jpg) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons