9th October, 2013
By Ugochukwu Ugwuanyi
Co-Nigerians, permit me to embark on what may look like Afghanistanism today. It is not as if we have finished tackling the issues confronting us at the home front, neither have I abandoned my beloved journalism metier to take up appointment as a busybody briefed to pry into other people’s affairs (although that is what journalism is about). It is just that there is a pressing need to take this trip outside Nigeria. Be patient, you will understand presently.
You should know, however, that it’s not as if we are transcending the dark-skinned continent. No. We are just going to stay within the bounds of the motherland, not minding that the people of the country we are headed aren’t dark-skinned. So, where is our destination? It is none other than Tunisia. I’m pretty sure that one major thing that comes to your mind is the Arab Spring. And correct, you are!
Actually, the Arab Spring that some years ago upset the apple cart in the Arab world to the extent of consuming enduring rulers started here. We can’t forget that it was in Tunisia where an event which was akin to a strike of the matchstick that set ablaze a forest occurred. But that was in 2011, let’s get to the present.
Before then, however, there is a point that can’t be overlooked: unlike some other countries that copied its brand of street protest wholesale, Tunisia’s path to transition has been comparatively peaceful with its trademark compromise and concessions taking pre-eminence whenever and wherever factions exist.
In Egypt, we know how the military recently toppled a democratically-elected president triggering bloody protests in its wake. We are also not ignorant that, in Libya, the central government have continued to battle rival militia’s influence since the ousting of the country’s hitherto strongman: Muammar Gaddafi. We also know what have become of Syria.
However, this relative peace enjoyed by the people of Tunisia got ruptured in July following the assassination of an opposition leader, Mohammed Brahmi, by suspected Islamist militants. This happened barely five months after a prominent leftist politician, Chokri Belaid, was murdered in February. It is also believed that Islamist extremists have a hand in Chokri’s death.
These killings have made the opposition elements in the country to resort to what they are good at- street protest. Their demand? That the Islamist-controlled government should step down. As at last week, anti-government protesters held a rally for the dissolution of the government in power in Sfax, 270 kilometres southeast of Tunis.
Wading into the matter that was already on its way to becoming a standoff, the country’s powerful labour union and other members of the civil society proposed that the ruling Islamist Ennahda party should agree to three weeks of negotiations at the end of which it would resign to make way for an independent transitional administration that would conduct presidential and parliamentary elections.
The labour union, which also goes by the abbreviation UGTT, had planned a protest campaign to arm twist Ennahda into accepting its transition blueprint, should the government not heed its demands. It is heartening that the ruling Islamist party didn’t allow the country’s labour union to go that far before it hearkened to the sense of reason.
According to an Ennahda party official, Lotfi Zotoun, “Ennahda has accepted the plan without conditions to get the country out of the political crisis.” Even the UGTT confirmed that both the secular opposition forces and the Islamist Ennahda have consented to the agreement it proposed. The deputy head of union, Bouali Mbark, said his union has a written statement from Ennahda about its decision, and that opposition officials have also confirmed the agreement.
Albeit experts suggest that Ennahda’s decision reveals its recognition that taking a rigid posture against the proposed caretaker government was getting it nowhere considering that the balance of forces in society was against it, I’d say it takes maturity for a reigning government to see things this way. That concession of government is highly commendable. All three parties have exhibited love for country by their actions. It is then expected that this patriotism will guide them all through the negotiations to when lasting peace will be achieved.
The Ennahda party have been accused by the opposition of pushing an Islamist agenda in the previously secular nation. It will better serve the course of peace for Ennahda to temper its alleged infusion of religion into governance and politics. This is as the country belongs to all the people of Tunisia, not just a section of the people.
The reputation Tunisia holds as one of the most secular in the Arab world even before the 2011 ousting of its longtime leader, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, must be upheld. This is as the people of the country must have got themselves accustomed to that style of living. Tunisia should guard against the same mistake made by the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt.
Be that as it may, the decision of the Ennahda party to resign after talks with its opponents are concluded remains a welcome development. Governments in power, especially those in many African countries should take a cue from this. For in the final analysis, government exists at the behest of the people. A situation where the people want an unpopular government to go, yet such government remained headstrong does augur well for democracy.
It is good that this is coming from the same Tunisia which set the precedent for the Arab Spring. Since other countries are wont to following its leading, it is hoped that the ruling Ennahda party will stay true to its promise so as to equally allow the expected outcome reverberate in other nations. Now you see why we had to undertake this trip.
•Ugochukwu is a freelance journalist who you can follow on twitter: @ugsylvester or reach through [email protected]