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Ennahda: The price of being in power

Ruling party is likely to bear the brunt of the biggest political crisis Tunisia has faced since the 2011 revolution.
Last modified: 14 Feb 2013 13:33
Ennahda was severely persecuted during the 80s and 90s but managed to emerge stronger and united [AFP]

While Tunisians are grappling with how to solve the biggest political crisis they have faced since the 2011 revolution, it is perhaps the ruling Ennahda party which is likely to bear the brunt of that crisis.

Ennahda had gone through tougher times since its creation in 1981. It was severely persecuted during the eighties and nineties - thousands of its people were sent to jail or exile.

But Ennahda always managed to emerge stronger and united. In October 2011 came the Ennahda moment - they won the first democratic election in the history of the country and formed, along with two secular parties, a ruling coalition.

The formation of the coalition came amidst high hopes the Tunisian model could inspire many other countries engulfed by the Arab Spring.

But the assassination of the prominent opposition leader Chokri Belaid earlier this month and the events that followed may prove to be a test that is likely to shape the future of Ennahda.

The opposition accuses Ennahda of undermining gender equality and stifling liberties and the secular traditions of the republic. The onus is on the party to show it can adapt to changing realities and take decisions that might be painful.

Scrambling to defuse the mounting tension in the country, and stem the rise of popular discontent, Prime Minister Hmadi Jabali, who is a senior member of Ennahda, offered to form a non-partisan government. His party rejected the move.

Jabali and Ennahda are now embroiled in a tug of war, the implications of which may haunt the party for years to come.

If the prime minister goes ahead with its plan, his party may fire him and form a new government. But by doing so, they may become divided or derided by the public as a party only concerned about its survival.

But if they back down and allow Jabali to form a non-partisan government, Ennahda officials worry that also could be a disastrous move.

They are very skeptical of technocrats, who they suspect of being groomed by Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the former president, and that once in power they would do their best to crush Ennahda.

Ennahda is now the biggest and most organised party in Tunisia, but they are largely inexperienced and their steps will be closely scrutinised by their opponents.

Any gaffe or misstep will further bite into the party's credibility and revive the debate on whether the Islamists are ready to govern in the Arab world.

But among Ennahda diehards, there is a growing sentiment that the West and regional powers are colluding with the secularists to discredit the party and belittle their achievements in the government.

They say their fight now is not about "defending their party but to ensure Tunisia has forever broken away with dictatorship".