TUNISIA ISLAMIST PARTY REJECTS GOVERNMENT DISSOLUTION
The Islamist party dominating Tunisia's ruling coalition yesterday rejected its own prime minister's decision to replace the government to try to appease critics, signaling that the political crisis brought on by the assassination of a prominent leftist politician is far from over.
A few dozen protesters also tried to demonstrate in front of the Interior Ministry but were driven off by tear gas, avoiding an apparent attempt to reprise the riots that convulsed the heart of the capital on Wednesday.
The announcement by Ennahda throws into question efforts to resolve one of the worst crises Tunisia has faced since its revolution two years ago and makes plain that there are divisions not just between the Islamist government and the largely secular opposition, but within the ruling party itself.
The country's main labor union also declared a general strike for Friday over the assassination, a provocative move that will shut the country down and is expected to inflame tensions in a country already on edge after Chokri Belaid, a fierce government critic, was shot several times in his car just outside his home on Wednesday morning by unknown assailants.
Though the capital was otherwise mostly calm Thursday, there were full-scale riots in the southern mining city of Gafsa, where Belaid's Popular Front coalition of leftist parties has a great deal of support.
Tunisia had been seen as a model for the transition to democracy after its people ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and kicked off the Arab Spring, but political violence and allegations of government negligence have dimmed hopes. The new crisis has raised fears it may not be an exception to the turmoil in the region.
The situation has yet to degenerate to the point of Egypt, which faces regular violent street battles between police and protesters and a total breakdown of trust between the Islamist government and the opposition. Tunisia's Islamists rule in coalition with other parties and must rely on consensus more than Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.
Ennahda was long repressed under the secular rule of Ben Ali, but after his overthrow in January 2011, the well-organized movement dominated subsequent elections and now rules in coalition with two secular parties. Relations between the government and the opposition had deteriorated in recent months with talks over a government reshuffle going nowhere. Hardline Islamist groups have flourished, with a string of attacks by ultraconservative Muslims known as Salafis against arts, culture and people they deemed to be impious.
Meanwhile, critics like Belaid had accused the government of employing thugs to attack meetings of the opposition. Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali announced late Wednesday he would dissolve the government and form a new one of nonpartisan technocrats to manage the country until elections, giving in to the longstanding opposition demand in a widely welcomed move.