Tunisian Islamist Party Vows Not to Derail Fragile Democracy

  • Ennahdha is now largest following ruling party resignations
  • Ruling party defectors also promise to support government

Tunisia’s Islamist party pledged to avoid taking any action that would derail the country’s fragile democratic transition, after the ruling party split following the resignation of 32 lawmakers.

“We have good communication with the prime minister and there’s a strong willingness within Ennahdha to support the government,” said Rafik Abdessalem, head of external relations at the Ennahdha party. “Stability is crucial for Tunisia.”

The division of the ruling Nidaa Tounes party, amid mounting tensions over its leadership, left the moderate Islamist Ennahdha as the largest party in Tunisia’s 217-seat national assembly.

Though often described as the sole success story of the Arab Spring, Tunisia’s post-revolutionary transformation hasn’t always been smooth, and the breakup of Nidaa Tounes comes at a delicate time. Officials are trying to stem a financial crisis that has worsened after two deadly militant attacks this year crippled the tourism industry and saw growth drop to about 0.5 percent. The benchmark stock index fell for a second day on Tuesday.

The lawmakers who quit vowed to continue to support the government. Loyal to Nidaa Tounes Secretary General Mohsen Marzouk, they’ve accused President Beji Caid Essebsi’s son Hafedh of attempting a hereditary transfer of power, a charge he denies. They suspended their membership last week and threatened to leave the party if no way forward was found.

‘Benefit’

Their resignations wouldn’t be considered official for another five days,  Ennahdha party spokesman Oussama Sghaier said by phone in Tunis.

“What is happening within Nidaa Tounes benefits Ennahdha,” Salah al-Din Jourchi, an analyst based in Tunis, said by phone. “But it’s not in their interest to confuse matters or make major changes.”

Essebsi, 88, and Marzouk represent rival factions in Tunisian politics. The president is viewed by many as a member of the old guard, having served as foreign minister in the 1980s and as parliament speaker in the 1990s under ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, while Marzouk is a former leftist activist. Nidaa Tounes won the most seats in October elections and the right to form a government.

Mass demonstrations against Ben Ali’s rule at the end of 2010 touched off the Arab Spring across North Africa and the Middle East the following year. Though Tunisia has escaped much of the violence that has since engulfed neighboring nations, there were two major terrorist attacks this year on a tourist resort in Sousse and the Bardo Museum in Tunis.

Ennahdha says it has prioritized the national interest before. The party was elected in 2011, before stepping down at the end of 2013 amid protests sparked by the assassinations of two liberal politicians.

The division of Nidaa Tounes won’t jeopardize the stability of the state, Ennahdha official Abdessalem said. Only a coalition government can achieve a “fairer, more inclusive, democratic and prosperous Tunisia,” he said.

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