“Tunisia was in political limbo on Wednesday as President Moncef Marzouki suffered setbacks in his bid to replace Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, who quit after failing in his plan to form a non-partisan cabinet,” AFP reports.
Talks between Marzouki and Rached Ghannouchi, head of Islamist Ennahda [also known as Nahda or Renaissance] party, ended inconclusively, dashing hopes of a soon end to Tunisia’s deepest political crisis since the revolt that ousted Zine El Abidine Ben Ali two years ago.
“For the moment we have no name,” said Ghannouchi, whose party holds the majority in the National Constituent Assembly, after his meeting with Marzouki. He added that he was in “talks with Jebali” to continue in his post.
Jebali stressed when he resigned he would not sign on again as prime minister under “any initiative that does not fix a date for new elections. What about the constitution? What about elections?”
“We need a coalition government with several political parties and technocrats,” Ennahda party chief Ghannouchi told reporters.
Tunisian citizens are reportedly ’furious’ at the Islamist leader’s sectarian stance.
The head of the country’s largest labour union body backed Jabali’s call for an apolitical government to organize new elections.
Those parties rejecting a government of technocrats are unaware of the seriousness of the situation and failing to place national interest above sectarian or partisan considerations, said Houssine Abassi (left), Secretary-General of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), the country’s largest civil society group.
Tunisia has been in political turmoil since the murder of secular politician Chokri Belaid outside his Tunis home on February 6 sparked widespread protests and a general strike.
“Jebali’s plans had been bitterly opposed by Ennahda hardliners, represented by Ghannouchi, who refused to give up key portfolios and insist on Ennahda’s electoral legitimacy,” AFP reports:
Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, a prominent figure in the Republican party, expressed support for Jebali on Wednesday. “We support him because he has gained credibility,” he said.
Samir Bettaieb, leader of Al-Massar party, said he had “confidence in Hamadi Jebali due to the role he played after Chokri Belaid’s assassination.”
A section of the Tunisia media also showered praise on Jebali. Le Temps said Jebali “has given everyone a wonderful lesson in courage, consistency and commitment for the best interests of the nation”.
A Nahda spokesman reiterated the party line that a political coalition would enjoy greater legitimacy than a government of technocrats.
“Politicians who fought for a long time and worked hard for the revolution are also qualified to be part of the government,” said Najib Gharbi. “I guess Jebali doesn’t agree anymore.”
Radwan Masmoudi, who leads the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy and is close to the Renaissance Party’s leaders, said an agreement to form a new government was “probably close” but faced several challenges. Among them, he said, is the Islamist group’s insistence on retaining key government portfolios, including the Interior Ministry. Opposition parties have singled out that ministry as sorely in need of reform.
The speech left Mr. Jebali’s position in his party unclear. Mr. Masmoudi said that while the speech had been “statesmanlike,” the prime minister was in danger of losing his base. “He can’t be a leader if he doesn’t have a political party behind him,” he said.
But Noomane Fehri, a member of Tunisia’s constituent assembly who belongs to a liberal opposition party, said he had found the speech refreshing.
“He did what he said he would do,” Mr. Fehri said. “He continued to be a man you can trust.”
Gharbi’s claim that Nahda “fought for a long time and worked hard for the revolution” is disputed by independent analysts.
“It bears noting that Islamists were largely absent from the 2010-2011 demonstrations that led to the ouster of former president Ben Ali; after initially spontaneous protests, it was the union leadership that added crucial muscle to the nonviolent campaign,” write Middle East specialists Ahmed Charai and Joseph Braude.