Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Tunisia: Turn Left | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page
Media ID: 55291076

Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, right, is pictured with Ennahda party leader Rached El Ghannouchi at the opening of a meeting with representatives of all Tunisian political parties, to see if there is sufficient support for his solution to end the country’s ongoing political crisis in Carthage, outside Tunis, Monday, Feb. 18, 2013. AP Photo/Hassene Dridi

The so-called “Arab Spring revolutions” have produced numerous illusions, some of which were touched upon in my previous articles. Yet there are still several fallacies that are yet to encounter any form of criticism or suspicion, including the presumption that the Arab Spring states share a specific destiny; meaning they have an intrinsic link between them. To this effect, we have seen people suggesting that the success or failure of the Egyptian revolution will necessarily mean the failure or success of other revolutions. Others are totally immersed in Egyptian chauvinism-historically dating back to the era of president Abdul-Nasser-claiming that the entire region will find itself on the edge of an abyss if there is no solution to Egypt’s problems. This view is not only promoted by the Egyptian people themselves, who have a right to perceive their country and their role as they like, but it has also been put forth by politicians, intellectuals, and writers outside of Egypt, largely to support the illusion that the post-Arab Spring states must by necessity be in a better state of affairs than they were prior to the revolutions. There are those who declare their absolute love for the Arab Spring despite all its disasters, contradictions, and chaos, ignoring any political or economic stability that has remained unaffected by the spring’s winds in other Arab states. As a by-product of this, there are those who promote the Brotherhood’s project although they are ignorant of its political or intellectual discourse. However, this is the illusion of the “Brotherhood by proxy”, which is a different story.

If we go beyond the fallacy of the Arab Spring’s unity, it could be argued that the Tunisian experience has the most scope for change and resolution, although it shares the same feature as Egypt with the Ennahda party-an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood-rising to power. Yet this similarity hides broad differences and complexities underneath, and these make the Tunisian situation rich in potential.

In my assessment, despite the catastrophic assassination of prominent left-wing symbol Chokri Belaid, the Tunisians seem to be more inclined towards differentiating between the Islamists as a social and religious authority, and the Islamists as a political entity, the latter of which has proven a failure in the eyes of their adherers and allies, let alone their opponents.

The reason why the Tunisian situation is different is that the “left wing” there is deeply-rooted in society, unbeknown to the numerous observes who began to monitor Tunisian affairs only recently, following the revolution. Leftism is entrenched in Tunisia, and I do not mean in the style of the communist parties that were imported to the Arab world.

In Egypt, the left wing was traditionally limited to its elite, even when the pioneering labor movements there were predominant. As a result, these movements soon distanced themselves from the left wing, hence returning to their old, non-politicized status that still prevails among the majority of the working class across the Arab states, with some exceptions, most notably Tunisia.

Although it remained associated with communism along theoretical lines for quite some time, the Tunisian left wing had no links with a specific party or charismatic leading character. As a result, leftism-with all its related concepts of social justice-remained an open, public idea, in the same manner that the Muslim Brotherhood’s popular slogan “Islam is the Solution” resonated with the Egyptian street.

The emergence of the Tunisian left wing coincided with the formation of the working class in Tunisia in the early 1960s, which manifested in the trade unions. Later on, the trend expanded with the emergence of the Perspective Movement, before it was ultimately dissolved in the mid-1980s (having contributed to a pivotal shift in the Tunisian political scene).

Finally, the third phase began when leftism took on the form of political parties, making leftist ideas, albeit “idealistic”, serve as an alternative to the discourse of political Islam. Indeed, political Islam itself was only considered a true power after it became a pursued opposition. Exploiting their political “victimization”, the Islamists managed to gain the sympathy of new sections of the population, and their movements in North Africa were wiser compared to the rest of the Middle East with regards to how they dealt with other currents. In fact, considerable left-wing discourse was adopted by Islamist leaders, as if they wanted to say “we are more deserving of social justice.” Today, having reached power, the Islamists are now a stone’s throw from the street; home to unemployed youths and those disgruntled at the rate of social change. Furthermore, new components have emerged on the Tunisian political scene; takfiri Salafis and jihadis who advocate change by force or through armed violence.

This atmosphere ultimately led to Belaid’s assassination. Perhaps, if we consider a similar event under different circumstances in Yemen, when the prominent socialist leader Jarallah Omar was assassinated back in December 2002, we would reach the conclusion that such assassinations can actually strengthen the discourse that the victim used to promote. Yet the Tunisian situation is different in the sense that this aggressive act is highly unusual and a new characteristic of the scene there.

Regardless of the identity of the perpetrator in the Tunsian case, what matters are the consequences of the act. There is now talk of the Ennahda party resigning from political activity to give room to a technocratic government, and this idea is gaining support with the public outraged at the assassination, let alone at Ennahda’s failure in government administration.

In truth, this development would have not happened were it not for the broad differences in tactics between Ennahda’s Islamists and their peers in the Middle East, especially in Egypt, in terms of assessing the magnitude of the opposition. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood are grossly underestimating the opposition due to the size of their own supporters on the street. As for the Ennahda party, there is palpable concern being felt by its symbols in view of the fermenting and outraged Tunisian street. A possible problem that could surface is that an alliance may be formed between the Ennahda leaders, Tunisian businessmen, and the army, with the aim of constructing a military government to take over along the lines of the coup staged against the Islamists in Algeria.

Of course, there are also those who are promoting the conspiracy theory that what happened was a targeted assassination from within the left wing itself, with the aim of promoting its new hawks and sacrificing its old doves. Yet it is clear that such an analysis, which is typical of the Ennahda party, does not take into account the catastrophic consequences of such a reckless act, and its subsequent impact on the entire Tunisian left.

I believe that the assassination has prompted many Tunisians to adopt the slogan “turn left”. The Ennahda party’s leniency in handling takfiri currents and Salafi jihadists was a major cause for the state of political chaos that ultimately led to the assassination of such a prominent politician, although these currents were once seen by the Ennahda party as mere scarecrows to intimidate other parties. Ennahda was always attempting to win them over, and was always casting a covetous eye over their ever-increasing popularity. This assassination will be pivotal, and a mere government reshuffle will not suffice.