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Published on August 9th, 2013 | by Usman Butt
Image ©

By scossargilbert (Flickr: 1st of May protest, Tunis, Tunisia) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

East of Eden: Tunisian Democracy in the Land of Nod

Tunisia’s young democracy is in terminal crisis following the assassination of opposition politician Mohammed Brahmi on the 25th July.  Mr Brahmi, who was the founder of the ‘secular-socialist-Arab nationalist’ party, The People’s Movement, was gunned down in Tunis outside his home by two men on a motorcycle. Mr Brahmi is not the first oppositional figure to be assassinated either; last February, Chokri Belaid  of the Democratic Patriots’ Movement, was gunned down outside his house by Kamel Gaghgadhi.

Both murders have been blamed on radical Islamist Salafists, who have been openly operating in Tunisia since the toppling of Dictator Ben-Ali in 2011. Tunisia’s ruling party, Enhada (renaissance) movement has been quick to condemn the attack. Enhada leader Sheikh Rached Ghannouchi called the attacks “an atrocious, cowardly act” and urged the Tunisian security forces to apprehend the culprits ‘as soon as possible’. He also urged Tunisians to display “restraint and unity”.

Despite his calls for restrain, Tunisia has been rocked by anti-government protests with many protestors demanding that the government be dissolved. Enhada is a ‘moderate’ Islamist party, which was banned and vilified under the last regime. Many ‘secular’ Tunisians fear that Enhada has a ‘secret’ agenda to set-up a ‘Sharia-Islamist state’ and curtail the rights of ordinary Tunisians. Enhada has publicly denounced the idea of setting-up an ‘Islamic state’ and claims it works on the basis on ‘national unity’.  Enhada works in coalition with many secular parties, from which it forms the government. However, economic problems coupled with a weak security-force have led to violent instability in parts of the country.

Radical-Salafist ‘Al-Qaeda’ groups, who are also opposed to Enhada, have been taking advantage of the lack of security. In parts of Tunisia they have filled the void left by Enhada and set up a number of Sharia-style courts. They also intimidate and kill opponents, with one Salafist leader, Abu Iyad, threatening to turn Tunisia into another ‘Afghanistan’. The security forces and the government have been unable to stop the proliferation of these groups, and many ‘secular’ Tunisians suspect that Enhada is working with the Salafist groups ‘secretly’. This has caused tension, which many small leftists and nationalist parties are exploiting; they are using the death of Brahmi to point-score against Enhada and call for the national coalition to be dissolved. They hope to mimic what happened in Egypt.

Meriem Dhaouadi, an anti-government activist and protestor, told the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, that she and other activists have set-up the Tunisian-version of the Tamarod (rebel) movement. The Tamarod movement is credited with mobilising protests and they helped to topple President Morsi in Egypt. They are a group of young social media activists who received help from anti-Morsi political parties and media stations (and were possibly financed by Saudi Arabia), which led to 22 million Egyptians signing a petition that called for the removal of Morsi.

Dhaouadi said that she hoped they could collect 2 million signatures calling on the formation of a consensual government and the dissolving of the current one. “I do expect the leading Enhada government to fall down pretty soon. The people are angry form the course of assassinations, as well as the almost-same neo-liberal economic policies implemented under the dictatorship of Ben Ali”.

Mass anti-government demonstrations have reached 10, 000 and over in the past week, however Tunisia’s PM defied calls to dissolve the government, and has instead announced elections that will be held in December.  Enhada’s international spokesperson, Yusra Ghannouchi (daughter of Rached), told Al-Ahram “There are some calls for exploiting the tragic and heinous assassination crime to attempt once again to obstruct the completion of the democratic transition and the organisation of elections by those who are not committed to the democratic process,”

“No sane person would wish to take their country into the same direction into which Egypt is being dragged, and secondly because the arguments used by some to justify the coup in Egypt simply do not exist in Tunisia,”

It is important to remember that Enhada is not like the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt, and the situation in Tunisia is not the same either. Unlike the Egyptian MB, Enhada is working with ‘secular’ parties and has almost completed the drafting of the constitution with them. They have emphasised the importance of free speech and expression and they have shown solidarity with the slain politician Brahmi. Although, only 10, 000 people have come out to protest (Tunisia has a population of 10 million), the country is now in terminal crisis of which a potential Egypt, or worse Syria, could be on the cards. The country could disintegrate without strong leadership. Democracy is East of Eden and will never get back into Eden without a clear proclamation of national unity. The world watches and waits to see what will happen in the first Arab-Spring country.

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About the Author

Usman Butt

Usman graduated in 2012 with an MA in Palestine Studies from the University Of Exeter. Before that he read Arabic Language and International Relations at the University of Westminster. Amongst his proudest achievements include winning a muffin for public speaking, winning a Lego set at age 5 and helping Palestinian refugees learn English. Usually writes about genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, Israel/Palestinian politics, Iranian/Syrian/Lebanese politics, the Arab Spring, philosophy, religion, British politics, Foreign Policy, history and social issues. He enjoys writing as he sees it as an outlet to express his opinions about the public discourse on these issues. He believes writing is a good way of keeping productive and teaching yourself new things.

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