Tunisian Islamists inch towards negotiations with secular opposition
Tunisia’s governing Islamists edged closer to negotiations with secular opponents on Thursday by agreeing in principle to a plan for a transition toward new elections proposed by the powerful trade unions.
The birthplace of the Arab Spring revolts, Tunisia is struggling to defend its nascent democracy against political polarization and popular discontent, especially after Egypt’s army ousted another elected Islamist leader, Mohamed Mursi.
Rached Ghannouchi, chairman of the Islamist Ennahda party, said negotiations would quickly resolve the standoff that has paralyzed Tunisian politics for almost a month and led to major protests and calls for the government to resign.
“We will get out of this crisis very soon,” Ghannouchi told journalists after meeting UGTT Secretary General Hussein Abassi. “We accept the UGTT initiative in principle to begin the dialogue” with the opposition.
Opposition leaders accused Ghannouchi of trying to buy time and repeated their demand that Ennahda give up power. The party later said in a communiqué it would stay on until the planned dialogue reaches a consensus on holding free and fair elections.
“Ennahda is looking for an honorable exit from the crisis to avoid a fate like that of the Islamists in Egypt,” said political analyst Noureddine Mbarki. “This decision comes after many international interventions, especially from Europe.”
Both the Islamists and the opposition agree on the need for new voting once work on a long-delayed new constitution is completed, which could happen in the next few months. But the opposition does not trust Ennahda to hold a free and fair vote.
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