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Debate: Tunisia’s next government will likely not succeed | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A protester shouts slogans during a demonstration calling for the departure of the Islamist-led ruling coalition at Kasbah Square where the government headquarters are located, in Tunis November 15, 2013 . (Reuters/Anis Mili)

The process of forming a new government in Tunisia remains at a standstill. The countdown to forming a new government was set in motion and then stopped. It would be no surprise if it restarts only to stall once more, due to the difficulty in reaching a consensus about who will be tasked with forming the next government to administer what remains of the current phase, the second phase in the so-called “democratic” transitional period.

This scene is reminiscent of a space shuttle launch, where the countdown is started but is promptly halted because of a technical glitch, or because the atmospheric conditions are not quite right. In Tunisia, the obstacles are of a different sort: the country is facing a deep-seated crisis of trust between the parties that have entered the national dialogue.

So the key issue for many does not concern agendas and manifestos, but rather existence and survival. The person charged with administering the following phase must not only be independent, but must also be trusted universally. Even if such an agreement could be reached, every decision taken by the leader of the future government will be assessed based above all on trust.

It appears that participants in the dialogue are not prioritizing—indeed, hardly broaching—the current social and economic problems in the country; instead, their primary concern seems to be how each party can take advantage of any putative decisions to serve their own partisan advantages in preparation for the upcoming elections.

If the national dialogue, which is currently suspended, has carried within it the seeds of failure since its inception—as each party entered it with misgivings about the others—then any government that materializes from it cannot help but also carry these seeds of failure. This means that every decision this future government takes, or is called upon to take, will be met with the same misgivings.

One of the most important decisions, which the opposition is demanding be taken as quickly as possible, concerns the revision of appointments to the central, regional and local administrations, as well as in several Tunisian diplomatic missions. But will this revision actually take place? And will the future government succeed in appointing people that both sides can accept in equal measure?

It is very difficult not to regard a certain person as being part of one camp or the other. This means that each new appointment will be met with welcome from some sides, and with displeasure and condemnation from others.

In a not dissimilar scenario, will the leader of the new government hasten to the course as a recourse, in order to dissolve the Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution in compliance with the wish of the opposition parties? Will the Tunisian Magistrates’ Court consent to this and decree their dissolution, or will it instead decide not to heed these calls, allowing the leagues to carry on with their activities? In either case, this issue will undoubtedly be a significant one in the future government’s agenda.

Yet perhaps the most important dossier the government has to deal with will be security. And in addition to the complications from armed groups that operate in various parts of the country from time to time, the situation might be made more complicated if next year’s finance bill is passed, particularly as it contains decisions that a large portion of the Tunisian people will not accept.

The riots of January 3, 1984, took place less than three decades ago—so we are not talking about ancient history here. When the government decided to remove subsidies for the most basic foodstuffs, Tunisians in almost every region took to the streets. After dozens of people were killed in bloody clashes with the security forces, the government had no choice but to go back on its decision and restore the subsidies.

Will the new government accept the implementation of the finance bill, when it did not itself draft it? Or will it introduce amendments, perhaps made necessary by a new social upheaval, which many parties will try to turn to their advantage? But if such an upheaval takes place, and if these amendments are included, it will not give the new government much room to maneuver on other issues. New events on the ground could also serve to seriously weaken the new government and its institutions.

In general, a new government’s chance of success in the coming period appears slim, given the current state of affairs and given what the future may hold for Tunisia, not to mention the deep divide running through society and through the state apparatus itself.

The new government’s role will be akin to that of a minesweeper. It will be able to neutralize a portion of the minefield, but all it takes is one explosion to nullify all the government’s efforts—and even its existence.

There is no chance of success for any new government unless it adopts new and sincere political language and a genuine patriotic agenda that embodies the real demands for freedom and dignity from the Tunisian people.

The counterpoint to this article can be read here.