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article imageGeneral Labour Union tries to negotiate end to Tunisian crisis

By Ken Hanly     Aug 24, 2013 in Politics
Tunis - Thousands of Tunisians were on the march in the capital Tunis today (August 24) calling for the Ennahdha party to dissolve its coalition government.
The marchers shouted "today, today, Ennahdha down today." The protesters marched toward the constituent assembly. Opposition deputies have boycotted the assembly for the last two weeks.
Ennahdha is a moderate Islamist party but is ruling in coalition with two smaller parties the Congress for the Republic and Ettakatol. Mongi Rahoui a member of the National Constituent Assembly from a leftist opposition party said: "After the blood, there is no legitimacy for the Ennahdha mafia," The reference is to the assassination of two opposition politicians Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahimi, the latter assassinated just last July 25. Many in the opposition blame the Ennahda government although the evidence points to a radical Salafist group.
The opposition in Tunisia is no doubt encouraged by events in Egypt where the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood backed regime of Mohamed Morsi was overthrown by the military after huge anti-Morsi demonstrations. The coalition of secularist opposition parties claim that the Ennahdha government has failed to deal with economic problems and the security situation. They want an interim government of non-politically aligned technocrats. The Ennahdha party says that the coalition government has a majority won in the 2011 elections and is legitimate.
The ruling coalition, known as the Troika, when it began governing made a pledge to leave power within a year. However, two years later the coalition is still in power. The constituent assembly elected nearly two years ago has yet to finalize a new constitution.Tunisia's opposition is accusing Ennahdha and its allies of overstaying their term. Even some Ennahdha supporters complain that the party and its leader Rachid Ghannouchi are too much influenced by religious conservatives within the party and should give more of a role to more liberal members.
Tunisia is perhaps fortunate in that the military has no history of intervening in politics. Tunisia also has a very powerful General Labour Union (UGTT) that played a significant part in the original Arab Spring revolution that overthrew President Ben Ali. This group is playing a mediating role during the political standoff.
Samir Cheffi, of the union said to Al Jazeera in an interview: “National dialogue and national consensus are the best solutions to solve disagreement. We hope it will not get to the point where it got in Egypt, and we are very sorry to see all those victims dying from both sides. We hope that what happened in Egypt does not happen here, We’re convinced that violence will only produce violence. And violence is against democracy and freedom. Whoever the source of the violence is.”
The union has emerged as a counterweight to the Ennahdha government but now is playing the role of negotiator even though it has a non-partisan interim government as the starting point for negotiations. Unlike many of the opposition parties the union is not calling for the dissolution of the constituent assembly charged with writing the constitution. The union did not support the nationwide protests that took place today, at least officially. The union also opposes political exclusion of any group.
Cheffi said: “Away from making judgments about one party or another, we believe that our mission is to bring all parties closer, based on the initiative that we are proposing at the UGTT. Tunisia is more fragile than Algeria or Egypt. We don’t have the economic resources to endure a protracted crisis.The most important thing for us right now is to save the country from descending into violence".
The UGTT has so far been unsuccessful in negotiations. Ennahdha provisionally accepted the union's proposals last Thursday but the terms were unacceptable to opposition leaders and they insist on the immediate dissolution of the government.
More about Ennahdha, UGTT, protests in Tunisia
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