“‘Islamists don’t really do power-sharing,” says a regional analyst.
That’s one reason why the General Union of Tunisian Workers, or UGTT, which called today’s general strike in protest at the killing of secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid, has emerged as a vital ”counterbalance to Ennahda’s formidable grass roots network” and a rallying point for seculars opposed to the Islamists’ agenda:
The powerful union, which claims a membership of 500,000 and has a network of operations with 24 regional branches across the country, is capable of organizing large protests and strikes in response to social grievances. Analysts and historians say it has always been a highly politicized movement, even joining the ranks of the government after independence, before falling out with Tunisia’s first president Habib Bourguiba.
Confronting their Islamist rivals in local communities, workplaces and the streets, grass-roots UGTT activists insist they have a more accurate picture of Ennahda than many expert analysts.
“The internal struggle and conflict within Nahda was always known to us and many Tunisians, but Nahda members always did their best to deny and hide it,” said Redha Bourgiba, a UGTT official.
“Now it is obvious that the two factions within the movement are at loggerheads: the faction calling for the heavy involvement in politics and ruling Tunisia and the faction calling for more social responsibility and helping the country come through the transitional period without taking full control of politics afterwards.”
Islamist dual discourse
Although Ennahda has officially condemned Belaid’s murder, “many accuse the apparently moderate Islamic movement of engaging in double dealing,” notes one analyst.
“They argue that it tacitly tolerates the use of violence as a political tool, adding to the climate of fear,” says Berny Sebe, a lecturer in colonial and postcolonial studies at the University of Birmingham.
“Ennahda made deliberate efforts to portray itself, at least for foreign eyes, as a moderate, respectably conservative Islamic party,” he observes, but ….
The absence of a vigorous government reaction to acts of political violence, which have been expanding steadily since Ennahda was voted into power, seems to give covert encouragement to those who seek to impose their views through force rather than democratic dialogue.
By turning a blind eye towards the excesses of Salafism in a society marked by more than six decades of state-inspired secularism, Ennahda seems to be worryingly blurring the line between political Islam and Islamist violence.
“Behind this facade of respectability, is the party playing a very different game when it comes to internal politics?” Sebe asks.
‘Islamists don’t really do power-sharing’
Tunisia is no longer a revolutionary poster-child, writes analyst Rachel Sabi:
A report just released by Human Rights Watch cites attacks on activists, journalists, intellectual and political figures – all the incidents apparently “motivated by a religious agenda”.
Last month Amnesty warned that Tunisia’s latest draft constitution, albeit an improvement on previous versions, is still ambiguous on issues such as gender equality, freedom of expression and judicial independence.
“It’s possible that any post-revolutionary party, once in power, would face the same accusations over missed deadlines for political progress, lack of justice, and a surge in youth unemployment,” Sabi notes.
“But in Tunisia this is compounded by the fact that, while most accept the democratic process that created an Islamist-heavy government, there’s a worry that Islamists don’t really do the sort of power-sharing required in post-revolutionary periods.”
“Hope still exists in Tunisia,” said Fatma Saidan, a noted Tunisian actor. “We are ready to accept Islamists, but they don’t accept us,” she told Reuters.