After the ouster of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in early 2011, Tunisian political leadership began to redefine its politics. New actors―previously persecuted and often compelled to leave the country―found themselves in a new and fresh environment wherein they actively began to play a role in ensuring the stability of the country.
One of the results of the revolution was the emergence of a plethora of new political parties and groups. Within a very short span of time the number of legalized parties increased from nine (during Bin Ali’s regime) to more than a hundred. The appearance of so many parties polarized post-revolution Tunisian governance. Moreover, the polarization was further exacerbated by the abrupt materialization of Salafis, especially young ones, identified more or less as Jihadi Salafis.
Following the first free elections, Hizb al-Nahda governed the country along with Ettakatol and Congress for the Republic (CPR) for about two years. When the situation turned precarious they agreed to hand over ‘power’ to a caretaker government.
The step signaled a pragmatic approach―albeit a compromise ―of al-Nahda to avoid the possibilities of popular socio-political unrest on the one hand and to protect the Party from what the Muslim Brotherhood suffered in Egypt on the other.
Moreover, during this period, al-Nahda tried its best to maintain a balance between secularists and Salafis as evidenced especially by the rhetoric of Rashid al-Ghannushi (primary ideologue of al-Nahda) as expressed in the article “How Tunisia Will Succeed” published in The New York Times. The edict “Tunisia will need the cooperation of all political parties to tackle much-needed reforms of economic subsidies and public administration …” reveals that al-Nahda is somewhat committed to see the dream for a stable and prosperous Tunisia come true.
After the passing of a new Constitution, Tunisia’s one more eye catching political event was the holding of a second free and fair post revolution election on 26 October 2014. Prior to this election the various political parties conducted intense political campaigning throughout the country. In the election, al-Nahda, the most dominant party in the post-Arab Uprising era, was unexpectedly defeated. Nidaa Tounes (a coalition of leftist politicians and remnants of Bin Ali’s regime) garnered about 85 out of 217 seats and emerged as a new political actor on the other side. The victory of the latter largely reveals a massive shift among voters who felt disappointed and disillusioned with the al-Nahda led government that failed to produce the desired results on multiple fronts. The country took another significant step toward peaceful democratic transition by successfully holding the presidential election in November and a runoff in December in which the founder of Nidaa Tounes i.e., Baiji Qaid al-Sebsi emerged victorious.
The Difficult Path to Traverse
Tunisia’s political leadership has to take some pragmatic steps in order to realize the goals of the Revolution and must diminish the permeating disparities between various groups. In this wholesome process, the role (especially) of al-Nahda and Nidaa Tounes will obviously be decisive. For them it is undoubtedly a huge task to reconcile “a deeply polarized society―one torn between Islamists and secularists, young and old, democrats and counterrevolutionaries, cosmopolitan coastal areas and the underdeveloped interior and south.”
Furthermore, the existing situation necessitates the evolution of the political spectrum to pragmatically address serious issues. The new establishment/government has to address the grievances of the masses that hitherto were unaddressed. Moreover, Tunisia in the post-revolution period continues to be in the limelight for two important developments: political stability and the upsurge in attacks at various tourist locations. The latter development is a serious issue for the Tunisian establishment. To end these attacks is a difficult task―given the country’s close proximity to Syria and Libya where the situation is extremely volatile.
No doubt, the task is a daunting one and what seems to be required is that the establishment should work in-tandem with groups in the country to solve, among other problems, the issue of unemployment, economic stability, equitable development in every region, and improvements in security. The unity and urge for working together in order to overcome the immense challenges is extremely important and failure to do so could derail Tunisia’s peaceful political transition. If these issues are not addressed both at the regional and global levels then the region may face unforeseen consequences and may spiral into a vicious cycle of violence and counter-violence.