Anti-Islamist old order ‘remnants’ flex their muscles in Tunisian politics

August 21, 2013

(Beji Caid Essebsi, former Tunisian Prime Minister and leader of the Nida Touns (Call of Tunisia) secular party, speaks during a public meeting in Tunis January 27, 2013. REUTERS/Anis Mili )

Step by step, the once-shunned officials of Tunisia’s old order have returned to the political scene and are turning up the pressure on the governing Islamist party Ennahda to make way for them.

These so-called “remnants” from Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s rule were swept aside by the first of the “Arab Spring” revolts in January 2011 and trounced in voting for a constituent assembly later that year. The assembly has considered banning them from politics completely.

But two murders of leftist leaders this year by suspected radical Salafis and mounting dissatisfaction with Ennahda’s Islamist agenda have plunged Tunisian politics into turmoil, prompting the assembly to suspend its work.

Since the second assassination in late July, ex-officials regrouped in new political parties have spoken out more openly and helped organize and fill the ranks of mass rallies to demand Ennahda step aside and allow new elections.

It now looks likely that the proposed ban, which would shut about 30,000 “remnants” out of politics, will get lost in the political tumult and the opposition parties will emerge as a potentially strong challenger to Ennahda in the next election.

“The ex-officials want to return under another flag,” said Tunis University professor Sami Brahmi, referring to about half a dozen parties where they are active. “They’re the ones who are benefitting the most from what is happening.”

Ennahda used to dismiss the “remnant” parties as a copy-paste of the old system and not worth talking to, but agreed to meet them after Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood was toppled by the army last month following mounting popular protests.
Read the full story by Tarel Amara and Tom Heneghan here.

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