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Tunisia's Islamist-secularist rift

The two camps at the heart of the government crisis are making tactical moves to appeal to their core constituencies.
Last modified: 11 Feb 2013 18:27

The political crisis in Tunisia, following the assassination of opposition secularist politician Shokri Belaid, says a lot about the country's deepening political divide.

Two years into a revolution that toppled a dictator and inspired the pro-democracy movement in the Arab world, the country is blighted by instability and uncertainty.

The ongoing debate of whether a nonpartisan or a political government is the best way out, is clearly an indicator of that rift.

Ennahda, the main Islamist in the governing coalition, is not in favour of a government with no political affiliations - a technocratic government, as the prime minister wants - for two reasons.

The party says such a government will not tackle the country's pressing issues and ultimately may look like an attempt to hijack its right to rule following the 2011 election which gave them 40% of the votes.

The secularists, on the other hand, fear an Ennahda-led government will have a a bigger say in shaping the transitional period and the future of the country.

They argue the Islamists will use their weight to draft the constitution and establish a political system that ensures their dominance.

Tactical moves

So, in a sense, the various parties are manoeuvring to reposition themselves and adapt to any possible scenario.

They are all setting their eyes on the upcoming elections, making tactical moves to appeal to their constituencies.

The biggest losers of the October 2011 election think Ennahda's once overwhelming popularity is waning following a string of setbacks, economic strains, instability and, now, the assassination of an opposition leader.

They see an opportunity to realign and stage a comeback.

An inexperienced Ennahda is now faced with the delicate task of convincing the West that they are in control, that they are committed to  securing Western interests, and that they are helping to maintain stability while stemming the rise of radical groups.

The days ahead will be closely watched by the world; it is too early to tell how the country will look like in the future and whether the political class will manage to solve the biggest crisis it faces.

In the immediate term, though, the country that many had hoped would stand as the best example of how Islamists can work with secularists in the post-Arab Spring era, is likely to lose its appeal.