Is Tunisia on the brink of a crisis?

The North African country was the one success story of the Arab Spring. It became a democracy and has not been taken over by hard-right Islamists or generals.

Protests in Tunisia  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Protests in Tunisia
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Tunisia’s Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, who is from the right-leaning Islamist party Ennahda, has warned that current attempts to dissolve parliament are “confusing and unconstitutional.” Turkish, Qatari and Gulf media are highlighting the crisis, which means that foreign governments are paying close attention to Tunisia and perhaps hoping to undermine the country. At the center of the uncertainty there are discussions about neighboring Libya’s civil war.
Tunisia was the one success story of the Arab Spring. It became a democracy and has not been taken over by hard-right Islamists or generals. Unlike Turkey, the largest jailer of journalists in the world – or Egypt where freedoms have been rapidly reduced since 2011 – Tunisia has tried to have open and active politics. Today, Ennahda holds 52 seats in the 217-seat assembly. But talk of the country being  “sabotaged” with “plots” is not helpful and indicates that a crisis is brewing.
Ennahda says that there are campaigns of incitement against it and that there is propaganda from foreign media. It appears Tunisia is concerned about the experience of neighboring Libya. In Libya a proxy war between Turkey – which backs the GNA government in Tripoli – and Egypt, which backs the LNA of Khalifa Haftar in Benghazi, has led to increased clashes. Ankara has been pouring in Syrian rebel mercenaries and drones, with a fleet of ships and cargo flights plying the way. Haftar was in Cairo on Wednesday for talks with the Egyptians. And the Russians have sent warplanes to bolster the LNA.
Small Tunisia, a more liberal and open minded country, is close to Libya. It has seen threats from groups like ISIS, and there is a radical fringe in the country. Many hundreds of Tunisians joined the global jihadist group, traveling to Turkey before entering Syria.
Turkey’s goal is to turn countries in the region into semi-despotic unstable areas, similar to what it did in northern Syria, with mercenaries controlling the area and free press imprisoned. The enemies of Turkey appear to want the reverse side of that coin with generals in charge. Tunisia therefore represents a prize to be undermined: an area of freedom that challenges the prevailing currents where one form of authoritarianism or another must prevail.
Ghannouchi has warned that chaos may be coming. In an interview with Turkey’s Anadolu news agency, he denied a dispute with Tunisian president Kais Saied. He argued that demonstrations are an important part of democracy. But he warned demonstrators not to burn, loot and harm the public domain. He also told Anadolu that dissolving parliament was a recipe for chaos.
Parliament held a session overnight from Wednesday to Thursday morning in which Ghannouchi was accused of being a “client of Turkey and Qatar” and that he was in touch with Libyan political parties. Opposition voices claimed that he was part of the Muslim Brotherhood and was in touch with extremists.
According to reports in Al-Ain media in the Gulf, which opposes Turkey’s role in the region, Ghannouchi has been favoring Ankara and seeking to support Turkey's role in Libya. This appears to contradict his role as speaker, because he is not the head of state. Tunisians don’t want the speaker taking sides in Libya.
Because media in Turkey is entirely pro-government and basically serve as mouthpieces for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) – and because media in Qatar or the rest of the Gulf all only parrot the various regime narratives – none of the accounts of what is happening in Tunisia can be fully understood without putting them all together. The focus on Tunisia, by both Ankara and Abu Dhabi, would seem to indicate that what comes next is part of a larger regional struggle – and that it may impact Libya as well.