Tunisian secularists and Islamists hold rival rallies, no clashes reported despite fears
Around 40,000 secularists rallied in Tunis on Tuesday to call for the departure of the Islamist-led ruling coalition, but there were no reported clashes with another demonstration held by thousands of Islamists in the Tunisian capital.
“Go, Go Ennahda … the people want to bring down the regime,” chanted the crowd of mainly female secularist protesters, in one of the largest opposition protests to be held in front of parliament in Bardo Square.
A few kilometers away, thousands of Islamists protested in support of Tunisia’s moderate Islamist rulers in Habib Bourguiba Avenue.
The rival demonstrations had raised fears of violent confrontation and a threat to the transition to democracy in Tunisia, birthplace of the Arab uprisings.
The opposition is angry over the assassination of two of its leaders, blamed on radical Islamists, and emboldened by the Egyptian military’s removal of Islamist president Mohamed Mursi last month after mass protests against his shambolic rule.
“We do not see any results after weeks of political crisis, If this political stalemate continues, the result will be clashes on the street,” said political analyst Sofian Ben Hmida.
Tunisia is in the throes of its worst political turmoil since secular autocrat Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown in early 2010 in the first of the Arab Spring uprisings.
Islamist militants killed eight Tunisian soldiers in an ambush last month and the government, under pressure from secular critics, has responded with security force raids and air strikes on jihadi mountain redoubts.
Negotiations earlier this week between Tunisia’s powerful union federation UGTT, which has good relations with opposition parties, and Ennahda leader Rached Ghammouchi on a way out of the volatile impasse proved inconclusive.