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Political violence in Tunisia takes the country backward?

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The coalition government has shown little interest in engaging in an authentic reconciliation between Tunisians with different political allegiances.

Meriem Dhaouadi
22 October 2012

The first political assassination in Tunisia occurred on Thursday in the town of Tataouine (south of Tunisia) when the coordinator of Nida Tounes (call of Tunisia) party, Lotfi Naqdh, ‘died’ after an outbreak of violence between his party and government supporters.

While the ministry of interior spokesman stated that the death of the politician was caused by a heart attack, eyewitnesses backed by an amateurish footage of the incident claim that Lotfi Naqdh was beaten to death by members of the League of the Protection of the Revolution (people who sympathize with the party in power, Ennahda). The latter sponsored the march to ‘cleanse the regional governments of the remnants of the former regime’.

Earlier this month the leader of the Ennahda party, Rachid Ghannouchi, declared in a radio show in a local radio station, Shems Fm, that, "The Salafis are not a danger, because they are only elements outside the state… the harm stems from the party of Nida Tounes because it is made up of RCD (former party) elements that forged the country's history ... with corruption, torture and  looting.”

Only last month, five Tunisians were killed at the hands of their fellow Tunisians in the attack on the American embassy in Tunis following the protest over the “innocence of Muslims” YouTube video. The ministry of interior has failed once again to prevent repeated deadly clashes between Tunisians. The absence of a robust security system or tolerance for opposition activists will eventually lead the country to civil war.

Post-revolution Tunisia has been caught up in blame, counter-blame and vengeance because the coalition government has shown such little interest in engaging in an authentic reconciliation between Tunisians with different political allegiances. The remnants of the Ben Ali regime have become the scapegoats for a government dealing with economic, political and social crises that still fuel rage across the country. The Ennahda party, in a statement on Thursday, accused the opposition of provoking the violence and attacking their rivals with Molotov cocktails.

Clashes between pro government groups and the opposition are not a novelty following the elections of October 23, 2011. The close of the anniversary of the first democratic elections of the national constituent assembly in Tunisia has escalated tensions, since the constituent assembly should have concluded drafting the promised constitution by this date. The opposition argues that this date should also mark the official end of the mandate of the troika government, a coalition monopolized by the Islamist party Ennahda. Both the Ettakatol and Congress for the Republic (CPR) parties have become overwhelmingly unpopular according to recent polls. But the same poll suggests that Ennahda remains very strong despite some slippage in public esteem.

The creation of the political party Nida Tounis ( the call of Tunisia) by the Opposition leader and former premier Beji Caid Essebsi was a surprise success in challenging the monopoly of Ennahda, marketing itself as an alternative to the Islamist party, and attracting a wide range of politicians and figures from other parties around the charismatic figure of Beji Caid Essebsi, who led most of the transition period until the first transparent post-revolution elections.

So how can a sustainable democracy be achieved in a climate of bloody rivalry? Will the experience of autocracy under the former regime be replicated in Tunisia with the survival of the fittest (the ones who hold political power) coming once again to dominate the Tunisian political scene, alongside the curbing of freedom of the press, the intimidation of opposition activists, and the tarnishing of the reputations of one’s political rivals? 

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