Tunisia is witnessing a very dangerous development. The “country of jasmine” remains the nectar of the Arab Spring, yet today it is reeling between the ambitions of a bitter man of the Bourguiba era on the one hand, and the hunger of the Muslim Brotherhood for power on the other. It is the Egyptian scenario.
And the fear is that Tunisia will get the exact same outcome.
The sharp division in the street is reflected by the two demonstrations in front of the People’s Assembly: the one celebrating the decisions of President Kais Saied, who claims to have acted in accordance with the constitution and the other, mainly consisting of supporters of the Ennahda movement, confronting him and protecting Parliament Speaker Rachid Ghannouchi.
Meanwhile, the army separating the two parties will arguably not remain idle for long. For that is the most pressing question today: where does the army stand in this confrontation?
It is true that the army during the 2010 revolution remained neutral and decided not to protect ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The confrontation then was limited to the security forces of the Ministry of the Interior, which spared Tunisia a lot of bloodshed at the time, and helped secure the revolution’s victory.
Yet that should not entirely reassure us.
The Egyptian army also abandoned former President Hosni Mubarak only to make a comeback and pounce on the revolution and its results. In the light of the Muslim Brotherhood’s failure while in power, the army found social and political support for its coup.
The achievements of the revolution were overthrown in the context of overthrowing the Brotherhood.
All of these elements are present in Tunisia today.
The country has seen a massive failure in dealing with the economic and health crises by the government and political elite, headed by Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi.
In sharp contrast to him, the current president is new to politics, has few powers and comes from an academic background. Yet, he is not without populist ambitions that can be traced to Bourguiba’s understanding of power as purity combined with severity and cruelty, as well as a weak sensitivity to public liberties.
The army presents to many a way out of the current equation and general state of suffocation. But if the army is given an opportunity to rule, it will bring a general to the Carthage Palace, as well as generals to the government headquarters in the Kasbah, especially as he who just dissolved the government and disrupted parliament lacks the required political representation to be nominated.
It is clear President Saied has used the army. The latter is the only one managing the conflict today. If he does not revert his decisions, the military is not likely to remain in its position of managing the conflict, but will take steps towards seizing power.
It is not too early to fear.
The failure of the Ennahda movement is enormous. The tension in the street has reached a climax. And people have lost their fear of an intensification of the pandemic. The Egyptian scenario should serve as a lesson.
Celebrating Saied’s unconstitutional decisions is a dangerous signal, and Ghannouchi’s decision to go for a confrontation in the street also enhances the possibility of what happened in Cairo. The Tunisian revolution is all that remains from the defeated Arab Spring. Let’s raise our voices in defense of her, for it is in defense of ourselves.