Divisions in Tunisia Over Continued Protests

Some want them to end so as to give the interim administration a chance, while others insist pressure must be kept up to bring about real change.


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In Tunis, it feels like the number of protesters is the same as during the revolution almost a month ago.

The main protests are staged in the central El-Kasbah square, where the government buildings are, and in Habib Bourguiba avenue, where the interior ministry is based, but there also demonstrations in other parts of the city.

The protesters’ demands include dismantling the current constitution, bringing in a new one and rewriting the election law as most of us believe it was designed just to suit the needs of the ex-president. People also want higher wages, and more jobs to be on permanent rather than temporary contracts. They want the prices of basic foodstuffs and daily necessities to be reduced, and for there to be more stability.

But we can’t carry on like this, protesting and marching every day. People need to return to their studies and their jobs or the economy will collapse; it’s not helpful. Besides, this temporary administration doesn’t have the legitimacy to respond to all the demands nor to make promises – it’s a government of transition and its job is to keep the wheels turning while preparing the ground for the upcoming elections and the establishment of democracy.

There are two camps emerging. One calls for the protests to end, and for the interim administration to be given a chance.

The other – represented mainly by those staging an ongoing sit-in in El-Kasbah square – has more wide-reaching demands. They are the ones who called for Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi to go, arguing that as he served under the old regime he can’t bring about change and lay the foundations for democracy.

Ghannouchi stepped down on February 27, so this second group has succeeded, but they also want the Rassemblement Constitutionnel Democratic, RDC, the main political party of the old regime, to be disbanded and for a constitutional assembly to be set up instead.

They particularly want those individuals from the RCD suspected of corruption, murder and torture to be tried and excluded from the political process. A court has been established to try criminals from the former regime, and some trials have already started – and there have been reports of attacks on lawyers defending the RCD.

The RCD has been ordered to stop their political activities entirely, although the structure is still there. There are rumours that the RCD is still meeting and working in private, and that they are behind militias and armed criminal gangs which are intended to destabilise the country so people will want the old system back, as at least it brought stability.

Others believe the RCD has a vested interest in creating chaos to give them the opportunity to destroy evidence that links them to corruption and killings. I don’t think it will be possible to simply reform the RCD – it is a huge institution and could regroup under a new name, but will still be the same party.

Then there is the National Council for the Defense of the Revolution, a grouping which was set up to ensure that no one group could exploit the revolution, and to protect its goals and objectives. But it’s not really working too well at representing the young people who fought against the police during the revolution; we are not even sure who its members of are.

The main Islamist party, Al-Nahda, got its permit to function as a political party on March 1. However, its leader, Rachid Ghannouchi (no relation to the former prime minister), announced on his return to Tunisia after 22 years in exile that his group would not be fielding a presidential candidate.

In an interview with some leaders on Mosaique FM, the country’s top radio station, a journalist asked whether if they rule the country they would run it according to Islamic law, and they said no, they would not but adapt their position to abide by the law of the land.

They seemed quite flexible, and to some extent I was convinced by their arguments, but I wouldn’t vote for them as I want to see separation between religion and state. I don’t think they are as strong as, for instance, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, as most people in Tunisia simply don’t support them or like what they stand for.

We can’t forget, however, that in 1989 Al-Nahda came second to the RCD in elections, officially gaining about 17 per cent of the ballot – although the vote was widely believed to have manipulated to favour the ruling party.

We were going to have six months to get ready for elections but nearly two months have already gone by and we haven’t made any practical progress. There is wide debate over what the length of the interim period should be. If the elections are held in July, that’s the peak of the tourist season and we don’t want to risk there being political violence as we badly need tourism revenue for the economy.

If we push it to August, then that’s Ramadan, and with people fasting there is also likely to be tension. So that takes us to the autumn, and to be honest no-one knows the answer.

Calling for our prime minister to be replaced and for the ministers to be sacked is not a solution and doesn’t help fix what went wrong. Instead, we need to work on implementing the revolution’s goals and establishing democracy. The political situation is really messed up and no one seems to really understand what’s going on. There are as yet few clear parties or groups to belong to, and we are not that politically educated or experienced here.

But there has been a huge surge of applications to set up NGOs and political parties, as well as newspapers, television and radio stations.

I heard that there have been around 240 requests to establish political parties, which signals big-time chaos – although I don’t see a problem with a lot of parties, the competition could be fruitful – we just need to know their agendas.

Our media is freer now and is trying to deal with this confusion and make an effort to transmit a clearer picture of the political landscape. During the revolution, social media played a huge role, as because of the censorship no-one trusted the local media.

But now social media is just a source for rumours, and on Twitter and Facebook people are continuously calling for this or that minister to resign, without any reason or explanation – it’s insane.

So the mainstream media urgently needs to be strengthened. When Ghannouchi made his resignation speech, for example, I was at a conference with another group of bloggers and some newspaper journalists debating the challenges of media today. But it turned out that because state TV was on strike, they didn’t broadcast the speech, while another private station, Hannibal TV, was showing children’s programmes and yet another, Nessma TV, was broadcasting a football show.

It’s unbelievable that the prime minister’s resignation speech was not being broadcast live. The next day, I met Nessma TV’s communication director, Moez Sinaoui, and he explained that they had tried to be at the press conference but had been refused permission to film – unlike Al-Jazeera, which was present. This leaves a huge question about the freedom of media we were promised.

Appeared on IWPR March 3th.

Credit: Daniella Peled Editor at IWPR interviwed me to help put together this post.




One thought on “Divisions in Tunisia Over Continued Protests

  1. Pingback: Divisions in Tunisia Over Continued Protests | Emaj Magazine

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