October 23rd, Tunisians voted in a general election. The majority of the Constitutional Assembly seats were won by the moderate Islamist Party, Ennahda. Some argue that the “glorious” 90% voter turnout really only represented only 51.7% of eligible voters, and questioned the legitimacy of Ennahda’s claim to represent average Tunisians. Others went so far as to say that the revolution earlier this year was made by unemployed and politically ‘leftist’ demanding social justice and an end to unemployment; the Islamists simply joined the wave later. Such is the opinion of Sofiane Chourabi, founder of the Political Consciousness Association in Tunisia.
On November 22nd, families of the revolution martyrs and other citizens gathered next to the parliament, holding signs recalling the objectives of the revolution as the newly elected deputies met for the first time.
Since November 30th, Tunisians formerly united in the overthrow of the Ben Ali regime have been experiencing a remarkable ideological split. This started with a call for a general mobilization launched by the Doustourna network, a political organization led by Jawhar Ben Mbarek, a constitutional law professor.
Their manifesto, endorsed by 20 civil organizations, included many delegations of unemployed in the mining area (Gafsa & other regions), activists of the General Union of Tunisian Students (UGET), alternative political parties and independent citizen organizations: “In reaction to the political leadership’s provisional policies and the National Constitutional Assembly’s ground rules which are threatening the country’s democratic process and moving us towards a new dictatorship… we call upon all political powers, civil societies and all citizens to join our protest movement…”
The protest, starting with a 6 day sit-in, is aimed at putting pressure on members of the National Constituent Assembly to fulfill the goals of the revolution, and abandon proposed laws which represent the basis for a new dictatorship and restriction of real democracy. The protestors are demanding transparency, accountability for those killed in the revolution, promotion of regional development and the equitable distribution of wealth, as well as the end of corruption (see all demands below).
Even though the claims have nothing to do with religions and personal convictions, the sit-in taking place next to the Constituent Assembly in Bardo area annoyed Ennahda supporters. Almost every night protesters were subject to aggressions. Counter-protesters threw rocks and attempted to destroy protestors’ tents, says Monji Bhouri, a blogger from Tunis.
On December 3rd, sit-in resulted in a dramatic confrontation. On one side there were the Ennahda and Ettahrir (a Salafist party) supporters and also many teens from the neighborhood, singing slogans in favor of these parties, as well as Islamic practices such as wearing the Niqab.
The slogans were rewritten versions of football cheering songs, according to Monji Bhouri. “Those participants who call themselves pro-Islam behaved in a manner unworthy of Islam as they kept provoking, insulting and even attacking the real democracy activists”.
On the other side of the road, a slightly smaller number of pro-democracy crowd chose not to engage in a fight with the provokers. Instead they turned their backs and faced the Constituent Assembly building, unshaken by the injuries caused by the rocks thrown at them. The Tunisian media has praised the performance of the Tunisian security forces, who played a neutral role whilst assuring the protection of protesters.
“We’re here to express an opinion, if the other side has something to express, they’re free to do it but the fear is they’re here to stop us from expressing our opinion,” explains Jawhar Ben Mbarek. “We’re protesting peacefully to demand transparency and to prevent the birth of a new dictatorship. The violent attacks are like those used by the Ben Ali regime. We resisted them before and we shall continue,” adds Ben Mbarek.
Ennahda leaders issued a statement asking their supporters not to join the sit-in.
The violence of Ennahda supporters might be influenced by the recent barring of a university girl wearing Niqab from sitting her exam. The university’s dean was subject to verbal insults and physical attacks. Ennahda expressed support of the university and called to keep universities out of ideological and political debates.
I join many Tunisians in their discontent with the quality of international media coverage of the Bardo sit-in, reducing the protest to a confrontation between Islamists and Seculars, whilst ignoring by the real objectives of the sit-in:
- The immediate suspension of proposed laws concerning the organization of the temporary public power in the constituent assembly, which represents a basis for a new dictatorship concentrated in a single party which will dominate without collaboration or limitations all the state’s components and its powers: legislative, executive, judicial, administrative and media.
- Immediate change of the proposed laws for the internal composition of the National constituent assembly, and the imposition of a 2/3 majority to approve all its decisions, as well as the obligation to submit the text of the draft constitution to a national referendum for the establishment of a real democracy through the participation of voters.
- Adoption of the majority (50% +1) to vote confidence in the government and the same majority (50% +1) for withdrawing confidence.
- Live broadcasting of the National constituent assembly meetings and those of its committees, and publication of texts/minutes from the meetings to all citizens.
- Immediate and fair trial against the killers of the martyrs and rehabilitation of everyone injured during (financially and morally).
- Establish mechanisms to ensure regional development and the equitable distribution of wealth.
- An immediate response to all requests for legitimate employment in all the regions of the country and review the results of the recruitment examination for the Gafsa phosphate company (CPG).
- Purging the judiciary system of corruption; an essential condition for the independence of the judiciary.
- Immediate assault on financial and political corruption, which remains in all areas of the state.
- Suspension of foreign debts payment.
- Commitment of the National constituent assembly to include in the next Constitution the criminalization of dealings with the “Zionist state”.