Al-Nahda’s experience in power

​Riyadh Alshuaibi​
27 Oct 2014
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December 26, 2012 marks the anniversary of forming the national unity government composed by the troika of the governing parties in Tunisia. In as much as the hundred-day period is traditionally considered an opportunity to review the attitudes of the new government and its choices, the political tradition also calls for an appraisal of the government achievements, the appropriateness of its choices and the degree of its commitment. Additionally, this appraisal is also concerned with evaluating the chances available to develop the performance of the government. It is also important, as an Arab Spring country, to study the Tunisian model of government in all its peculiarities, and the opportunities for this model to be reflected in other countries of the Arab Spring. The conditions and guarantees of this success should also be considered in studying the political situation after the revolution, specifically the vision of the Nahda movement and its stand in this situation. These issues shall be considered as follows: - The nature and circumstances of the transition - The Troika in one year between two governments - The Nahda Movement: The vitality of the transition and its dynamics The Nature and Circumstances of the Transition The features of the transitional period cleared up after the overthrow of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali with five major revolutionary and political landmarks: - 1st Al-Qasaba sit-in which demanded the resignation of a number of ministers in the cabinet of Mohamed Ghannouchi , who were accused of being affiliated to external parties. The Government itself was also accused of being influenced by some figures loyal to the ousted regime. The demands were met, and a cabinet reshuffle took place, and figures believed loyal to the previous regime were excluded. - 2nd Al-Qasaba sit-in which had the greatest impact over the political process in the country after the revolution in terms of the nature of the demands. The people called for the abolishment of the 1959 Constitution and forming a Constituent Assembly. The protestor succeeded in bringing down Mohamed Ghannouchi, the last prime minister in the previous regime, and thus a new government was formed, led by Beji Caid el Sebsi. El Sebsi promised to fulfill the demands of the protestors to draft a new constitution for the country. The achievements of this sit-in defused a political crisis in Tunisia especially that calling for presidential elections within 60 days was impossible as stipulated in the old constitution. Due to the absence of consensus among the political rivals which made the process of democratic transition at stake, the interim president, Fouad Mebazaa, on the eve of March 15, 2011 issued a presidential decree organizing the interim authority stating that “until the National Constituent Assembly assumes its responsibility, after being elected freely, directly, and secretly in accordance with an election law, the Republic of Tunisia shall be governed by an interim authority according to the terms of this decree.” - Forming the “High Commission for the Fulfilment of the Goals of the Revolution, Political Reform and Democratic Transition” by el Sebsi government, which endeavored to represent the intellectual, political, and social spectrum of Tunisia. It was assigned the task of drafting the election law. The Commission was particularly concerned with reinforcing consent, and considered voting an exceptional mechanism used only when consensus is impossible to reach. Nevertheless, it was able to achieve its mission. - 3rd Al-Qasaba Sit-in: despite the developments achieved towards democratic elections, the youth of the revolution took off to streets in July 14, 2011 and staged a major sit-in calling for protecting the revolution from those figures loyal to the ousted regime. This sit-in was faced by unprecedented force by the security in the post-revolution period, and protestors were forced to clear off the Qasaba square. Despite the unreasonable force against the protestors, some of their demands were met, and some figures affiliated to the ousted regime were banned from running in the elections of the Constituent Assembly. - The Constituent Assembly Elections: it is the fires free, transparent and fair elections to be held in the history of Tunisia. The elections resulted in the appearance of the current political blocs. It is the first democratic opportunity in the history of the republic for creating an effective political power to run the country. Despite the lingering impact of oppression on the opposition parties, the results of the elections were not surprising; the Nahda movement won in a sweeping victory as an Islamic political party. It is clear then after this overview that the demands of the revolution were shaped in three main principles which are adopted as the criteria of success or failure: - The demand of ousting Bin Ali regime and all the symbols, figures, political and social projects, parties and administrative structures associated with it. The fleeing of Bin Ali in January 14 was only the first step to realize this demand. The successive sit-ins and the increasing demands by the youth clearly indicate their perseverance to completely eradicate political oppression and financial and administrative corruption in the country. - The demand of building up a new free political system which promotes freedoms, human rights, the rule of law, and the democratic alternation of power. The new constitution is the symbol of the new democratic state, and therefore work has early begun in order to have the necessary conditions to draft the new constitution, such as early democratic elections and political and administrative measures to secure the democratic transition in the country. - The demand of achieving real development and economic growth, in addition to creating employment opportunities and reinforcing fair distribution of power. The previously claimed Tunisian model of development was found to be based on an edifice of lies created by the ousted regime. Thousands of Tunisians, including young educated people, live in miserable economic and social conditions in light of an ever-increasing rates of unemployment. The failure of this model is also confirmed by the substantial inequalities among the rich elite and the rest of the Tunisian people. The crucial question to be raised at this point is: What are the demands that have been met in the second year of the revolution of freedom and dignity in Tunisia? Troika: One Year, Two Governments The Nahda movement cogently expressed in its political campaign its willingness to form a national-unity government to lead the transitional period. Once it succeeded in the elections of the Constituent Assembly, it called for all the political actors to participate in the new government. Nevertheless, only two parties responded to this call; the Conference Party for the Republic, and the Democratic Bloc for Work and Freedoms. Eventually, the Troika government was formed based on mutual political visions led to the following: - Approving “The provisional regulation of public authorities” which laid the legal, legislative, and administrative framework of governing the state during the transitional period until the new constitution is drafted and completely ratified. The president of the Congress for the Republic Party, Mouncif Marzouki, became the new president, enjoying only limited administrative authorities restricted only to presenting opinions regarding defense and foreign policies and senior appointments in the military. the troika members agreed to appoint Mustafa bin Jaafer as head of the Constituent Assembly, in order to supervise the drafting of the new constitution, and developing the legislative process required by the interim government. Hamadi Aljbali, the Secretary General of the Nahda movement, became the prime minister with broad powers, especially in economic issues and administrative reforms. The ministries were distributed among the three parties based on the results of the elections. The choice of the political government was the second result, which led to forming a coalition government. The troika also decided to vote no confidence for the previous prime minister Beji Caid el Sebsi or any of his ministers, which was a clear political message indicating the position of the Conference Party and Nahda regarding the previous government. - Approving “the supplemental budget for the year 2012”, which was the second necessary step awaited to be taken by the troika government, which was necessary to render its developmental strategies into a clear economic program. The previous government proposed a budget at the end of 2011 which adopted certain austerity measures to handle the fragile situation in Tunisia, socially, politically, and economically, and also because of the global financial crisis at that period. Therefore, the 2011 budget concentrated on issues of tight spendin without appropriating any amounts for development projects and creating employment opportunities. This issue was subject to endless discussions among politicians during that period, and it developed into an academic debate among supporters of difference economic philosophies. The government wanted to reassure its people and create an atmosphere of hope and willingness of change, and this was coupled with certain economic attitudes adopted by a number of experts who didn’t agree with the austerity measures. Therefore, it took the government 4 months to draft the supplemental budget that was development-oriented. The budget allocated more than four billion USD for developmental projects, for the first time in the history of Tunisia. Nevertheless, the budget deficit was forecasted to reach 6,5%. - The statement of October 13, 2012 by the High Coordination Committee of the Troika rearranged the political situation for the rest of the transitional period. The statement put forward several conditions to succeed in the transition towards a democratic state, and called the government to adhere to the decrees No. 115 and 116 related to the incidents of the media commission and the commission of the audio-visual media sector. It also demanded the formation of an independent Higher Commission of the Judiciary. The statement also proposed to held the presidential and parliamentary elections as early as January after taken the necessary measures to ratify the new constitution, and creating a high commission of elections, and draft a new elections law. Despite certain disagreements over some measures among the troika and the opposition parties, this proposal opened a new horizon for the transitional political process in the country. These have been the general characteristics of the experience of the troika government in Tunisia in one year, which indicate the following main challenges: - The immaturity of participatory governmental work: the philosophy of joint work in Tunisia goes back to the 1980’s and was developed in the work of the October 18 commission for rights and freedoms. Nevertheless, it has been always framed by resisting oppression, and as much as this helped reinforce this attitude, it negatively impacted the harmony in terms of political attitudes in modern Tunisia. This is apparent in the relentless attitudes and ideological stances of the different parties and actors and their unwillingness to compromise to achieve consensus. This is further complicated by the fact that several parties are revolving around certain figures who represent political and historical legacy, which also affects the concept of political flexibility which is important for the success in joint projects. - The lack of experience of the ruling and opposition parties alike in public affairs. The ousted regime denied the opposition parties any opportunities to gain technical and administrative experiences, since it believed that the best way to remain in control was to isolate all of the opponents and keep them away from even participating in the administration of the state. This limited experience was evident in the political discourse adopted by the government, since it was not able to mobilize the population to support its developmental projects or its economic program that turned into a burden on the government due to the difficulty of realizing it within the designated period. The government did not prove agile in dealing with the administrative and legal obstacles it faced, which affected the manner in which the state is being run. The problem is further aggravated by the inability of the government to communicate with the citizens, since media, especially mainstream media, was very confusing for the public, since the work of the government and its efforts were not highlighted and discussed, and achievements went unnoticed and unappreciated. This was due to the insistence of the media on arousing doubts and creating an atmosphere of mistrust in the future. - The government’s inability to wisely arrange its priorities. The Tunisian streets have been witnessing increasing protests, and the inability of the government to develop a new economic strategy within this short period to meet the demands of the public was not even compensated for in terms of achievements in other areas, such as fighting corruption and reforming the institutions. What has been done does not live up the expectations of the people, and that is aggravated by the government’s dependence on several figures in the ousted regime in high-profile positions in the country. Regardless of the complexity of the political situation in Tunisia, nothing justifies these appointments in the eyes of the revolutionary movements in Tunisia. - The political imbalance in the country causes serious confusion in the relationship between the government and the opposition. The political parties in Tunisia have been for so long under oppression by the autocratic regime of Ben Ali, and political isolation imposed on it deprived it developing its political visions in normal circumstances and increase its presence in the Tunisian society. And despite the clear difference between the presence and spread of the troika, especially Al Nahda movement within the Tunisian society, the other parties, that are less popular, seem to have more influence in the public opinion than the more popular parties and movements. Discussing the democratic transition in the post-revolution Tunisia is beset by uncertainties in terms of scope and mechanisms, and it could also revolve around the nature of the relationships between the government and the opposition. It is important to dot the i’s of this fresh democratic transition, since democracy is based on balance among the functioning political powers in the state, since peaceful alteration of power, which is the basic principle of the democratic process, is dependent on the presence of different influential actors which have similar opportunities to compete politically with each other. Likewise, freedoms and rights require clear demarcations of the spheres of public work, in order not to confuse media with politics, and politics with culture, and so on. Political parties should be aware of these conditions in order to be able to play a real role in the political future of the country. Otherwise, parties that insist on revolving around itself and refuse to adopt with developments will find themselves besieged by the limitations of their inflexible ideals. In this case, new parties and actors might come into being and take initiative to perform their tasks, or the political environment will encourage political gambling, and the spring of the Tunisian revolution might turn into a new era of oppression. - Fears of a counter-revolution: talking about this phenomenon is based on a logical development of the course of the matters the concepts of the action and its equal reaction. It also depends on analyzing the incidents that took place during the transition period. The counter-revolution powers were quite bashful at the beginning of the revolution and tried to conceal themselves by exploiting their official positions from a pure technocrat point of view. Later on, these powers restored their confidence, and that was evident in their swift and violent response to disperse the third sit-in of al-Qasaba, in addition to their insidious administrative slackness following the election of the Constituent Assembly and forming the troika government. These powers also gained momentum in the media outlets, playing the role of a fierce opposition concerned with the interests of the Tunisian people against the policies of the interim government. Lately, they have organized themselves into political parties that blatantly defend the structure of the previous regime, verging sometimes on acquitting the ousted dictator and symbols of his rule. The government has been trying to appear as neutral as possible in regards this issue, avoiding the possible political embarrassment that could ensue if it adopts the proposals of the parties and political in addition to the demands of the revolutionary powers to legally immune the government. This could have been ensured by preventing figures through to be loyal to the ousted regime from practicing political work and running for elections. Nevertheless, this position is also doing more harm than good to the government, and it raises a number of issues regarding the nature of this transition period, and subsequently the nature of the required revolutionary government to run this period. In its struggle against the counter-revolution, the government is facing four major obstacles: 1) the deep state and its influence within the society. 2) the oppressive mentality rampant in the country and controlling the manner in which public affairs are run, which could be termed as the ideology of the oppressive state. 3) the interest groups that practice their influence on the financial and administrative structures in the country which became through time and legislative formalities another facet of the state enjoying wide legal privileges. 4) the political formations that are now enjoying right and freedoms after they had long violated other people’s rights when they were in power. - The second year in the democratic transition in Tunisia has been marked by the a centered interest in politics by the public and elites alike and that deeply influenced the spaces left for public work. The conflict persisted among the political rivalries, and that led to a severe imbalance in the political situation in the country. The opposition powers that are less popular in Tunisia have reverted to the use of extra-political means such as instigating violence and chaos and contaminating the discourse of politics and media in order to prevent the success of the government. On the other hand, the troika government did not concern itself with new political initiatives to help alleviate the widespread political and social tensions in the country. Therefore a reshuffle was a necessary step in order to broaden the political structure of the government and absorb the anger the public following its weak performance. This reshuffle is going to be both political and functional. The reshuffle will be announced later this month, and it we need to wait in order to evaluate its impacts. Despite these serious challenges in the democratic transition in Tunisia, there are several positive achievements which should be mentioned. Tunisia is living in an unprecedented level of freedoms in all of its history, and the culture of human rights is becoming increasingly rooted among all the intellectual and political trends in the country. The troika government, although a short-term one, has been able to commit itself to more equal social and economic policies, such as the significant raise wages for almost a million and half workers in the public and private sectors reached 6%. It also succeeded in mobilizing international support for the revolution, and several countries promised to help Tunisia through direct investments, loan guarantees and financial and technical aid. The government in its first year created more than 100,000 job opportunities, and thus the unemployment rate dropped from 18,9% to 17%, and the growth rate increased y 3,5% after it had been -1,8% during the last period of the government of Beji Caid el Sebsi. The most enormous challenge is related to the economic-social situation in the country. The government is required to create more than 200,000 jobs for university graduates whose numbers are quickly increasing, and all employment programs until now have failed to meet their demands. The government road is also beset by the issue of achieving equal and fair development that could decrease the disparities between the rich and the poorer sections of the Tunisian society who were the fuel of the revolution. Al Nahda Movement: The Backbone of the Transition Discussing the democratic transition in Tunisia naturally requires talking about the main power in this transition represented by al-Nahda movement. The role of al-Nahda shall be tackled from three main perspectives: - The importance of al-Nahda movement stems from its long history of struggle against oppression and dictatorship. Tunisians realize the amount of injustice and adversities suffered by the supporters of al-Nahda, and they were angered by the gruesome brutality of the regime against these individuals. This feeling of sympathy and sometimes admiration has turned into a form of trust in the ideals of al-Nahda and the genuineness of its discourse. Therefore people widely votedfor al-Nahda in the election of the Constituent Assembly. Al-Nahda was also politically more mature than other parties, and that prevented it from acquiescing to battles in the media and guaranteed its influential political presence as a power concerned with national unity and achievements of the Tunisian people. - Al-Nahda was genuinely committed to the democratic transition, and followed a gradual policy of change. It was keen at first on reassuring the people after the revolution, and correcting its image which had been distorted by the ousted regime. Al-Nahda then adopted a unity-oriented approach in issues related to the elections law and the drafting of the new constitution, and eventually participating in the troika government, which could be later become a broader coalition after the awaited cabinet reshuffle. - The successful democratic transition is conditioned by the ability to adopt to the changing factors in day-to-day politics and play a role in creating them at the same time. Al-Nahda succeeded in presenting itself in terms of its platform identity instead of playing on hazy and general slogans. It also reviewed, although partially, its own political project in order to develop a national project inclusive of all Tunisians instead of being an ideological project or a project for the elite. The past year was a critically important phase in the way towards achieving the goals of the Tunisian revolution. Ratifying the new constitution and the upcoming elections will represent a new turn towards democratization and building a new and strong political system in Tunisia. Riyadh Alshuaibi A member in the executive office of Nahda movement, born in Tunis in 1969, he holds an MA in Modern Political Philosophy, and he is a PhD candidate, preparing a dissertation on the history of liberal thought. He published a number of articles in several newspapers and websites. He was among the political prisoners affiliated with the Nahda movement.

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