Tunisia suffering deep divide between Secularists and Islamists

Tunisia suffering deep divide between Secularists and Islamists
Protests in Tunisia are about determining the nature of what Tunisia is going to look like socially, should it be Islamist or Secularist, Anna Boyd, senior Middle East analyst at HIS Country Risk, told RT.

Tunisian opposition member Mohamed Brahmi was shot dead in the capital Tunis on Thursday, six months after the murder of another secular leader sparked a national crisis. Thousands of secularists poured on to the streets in protest.

RT:The previous assassination plunged Tunisia into a political chaos - how bad will this time be?

Anna Boyd: This is a very sensitive issue. As you know last time we saw hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets. We saw strikes across multiple sectors and we have been identifying such a political assassination as a potential trigger of that kind of thing to happen again. The problem is that no matter how much the party leaderships try to reign in their supporters, there is a very deep underlining political divide here between the Secularists and the Islamists within Tunisia. This is really all about determining the nature of what Tunisia is going to look like socially as well as politically following the uprising and the revolution. So this is very contested area that is likely to be polarizing people very much already. And I think the assassination is just going to bring it to the fore once again.

RT:How big of a political figure was Brahmi?

AB: He wasn’t a big political figure at all. He was a leader of a fairly minor party within this coalition, the Popular Front. The significance of it is that he was quite an outspoken critic of Ennahda – the ruling Islamist party. And the fact is that even if he wasn’t a particularly prominent figure the fact is that he was known for the opposition to Ennahda. So everybody who is out there in Tunisia who supports the Secularist trend, who is opposed to what Ennahda has been doing in government  is likely to seize onto this issue and to start protesting about it.

RT: The opposition blame the government, the Interior Ministry blame some radical Islamists - who is to blame in your opinion?

AB: I mean we don’t have an answer to that. And even if the former killing of Chokri Belaid nobody has ever been brought to trial or convicted for it. Certainly, the Secularists are saying that with the Salafi militias, I mean that it seems to be a possibility given that we know some of them do issue death threats. They vandalize offices of secular groupings and trade unions, this type of thing. There’s never been any proof that they’ve been involved in Belaid’s assassination but certainly people are going to be blaming Ennahda for this, fairly or unfairly.

RT:Brahmi wasn't only the leader of an opposition party - he was also on the board drafting a new constitution - will his killing hurt that process?

AB: I think it’s quite a serious impact for the drafting of the constitution. Primarily because Ennahda has actually given quite a few concessions to the secularists. And I think the secularists now will be pushing for even more concessions from Ennahda. But the trouble is that I think the killing is likely to polarize both sides. The more that Secularists blame Ennahda the more the right wing of Ennahda is likely to take a defensive position and try to accuse the Secularists of trying to undermine them. I mean after all of them were democratically elected. So it makes it more difficult for the moderates on both sides to come to compromises on the constitution. There are still some outstanding issues with the people accusing Ennahda of having made revisions on the draft constitution that haven’t been approved by the other parties involved. So I think it will polarize things more in terms of drafting of the constitution and delay things quite a lot.

RT:The ruling party are inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood - could their fate repeat that of the Brotherhhod in Egypt?

AB: It’s an interesting question because what we’ve seen in Tunisia has been the emergence of a Tamarod campaign, a campaign of the same name as that ended up at toppling President Morsi. And they are trying to get rid of Ennahda. The difference between the Egypt and Tunisia is really the strength of the army and the army’s interest of intervening in politics. With Egypt we had an army with a very strong political and economic role for many years, that wasn’t a case in Tunisia. The Tunisian army in fact has always been quite small and quite separate from politics. I don’t think they’ve got any intention really to step in on the side of protestors and try to get rid of the Ennahda government. That I think isn’t going to happen in Tunisia unless we saw an extremely bad deterioration of the security situation but at present an army intervention looks unlikely.

 RT:With what's happening in Egypt, and what we're now seeing in Tunisia - is this evidence that the Arab Spring is ultimately failing?

AB: I think it would be premature to say, revolutions don’t just happen overnight. We know this from the experience of Europe for example, these things can cause instability for decades. It’s going to take some time to resolve this issue, we aren’t likely to see a lot of back and forth. As I said there is a major debate now happening in Tunisia about what the future of the country should look like: should it be Islamist or Secularist. These things are going to take time to resolve. And in fact the party leadership as I said of Ennahda has actually been quite positive: making concessions and trying to work things out through political means. I think it’s quite a strong will for that in Tunisia and that should shape things going forward.