Since the president’s sweeping decisions announced on July 25, Ennahdha member Radwan Masmoudi has waged a media war against Kais Saied. A controversial figure, Masmoudi has long juggled between his activities in civil society and in politics. And this is not the first time that his statements have elicited so much controversy and raised questions about his connections both within and outside of Tunisia.
In recent weeks, political parties have taken to the streets for rallies and demonstrations. The move from parliamentary chambers to downtown avenues follows weeks of unrest in January and February, confrontations between demonstrators and police, mass arrests and torture of detainees, and disagreements between President Kais Saied and Prime Minister (PM) Hichem Mechichi over the PM’s proposed ministerial reshuffle. The new party mobilizations reflects what one Ennahdha party official has called a “sign of crisis.”
On September 5, after months of flirting, the Al-Karama parliamentary coalition announced its alliance with the Qalb Tounes party. The two parliamentary blocs finally decided to confess their love in a joint vote of confidence for Mechichi’s government.
Almost ten years after the Revolution took place, however, the new political scene that has since emerged in Tunisia is creating social friction and a division amongst Tunisians. This article attempts to provide an analysis of this prevalent social friction based on the theory of group polarization, while shedding a special light on the current political events that are shaping Tunisian domestic affairs.
New elections are around the corner, and the monitoring of party financing has yet to catch up. Between political parties incapable of respecting the law and authorities that struggle to sanction them, the trust of a small segment of citizens still inclined to vote could be easily shaken.
“Manich Msamah”: resistance in times of consensus The “Manich Msamah” [I will not forgive] campaign contests the adoption of a draft law introduced by President Beji Caid Essebsi in 2015, the law of “economic reconciliation”. The Presidency’s proposed bill addresses past economic violations, mainly financial corruption and misuse of public funds. Public uproar last week before the bill was passed on to parliament stemmed from the possibility of impunity for corrupt state officials and businessmen once the law is passed.
Ennahdha’s shift towards post-Islamism in the context of the post-revolutionary Tunisia reveals two truths and a lie.
Ennahda’s 10th Congress took place between May 20th and May 25th, bringing reforms which sparked conversations about where the party is headed next. Media coverage highlighted Ennahda’s separation of “mosque and state” as a step towards better governance in Tunisia. The portrayals of what this “separation” truly means varies in Western and Tunisian news coverage, with some reports being more skeptical than others.
In this extremely polarized electoral context, how did the media frame the public discussion and shaped the public opinion? A very bad role, if one believes the 3rd report of Independent High Authority for Audio-Visual Communication (Haica) on the political pluralism, which points the partiality of the audio-visual coverage of the presidential campaigns. Furthermore, the press took a dangerous turn when being engulfed in shifting sands of propaganda and voluntary complicity. But these repetitions seem to worry neither the politicians, nor the journalists.
Media coverage of the MENA region is plagued by blanket statements and superficial analysis. International news outlets reserve even the right to name events. The so-called Arab Spring is an example of a de facto forced label. I will proceed to call the events bundled as such, rightfully and as their proponents overwhelmingly agree: Arab Revolutions. To the matter at hand: Tunisia’s ongoing general elections are hailed as the sole success-story of the Arab revolutions. Democratic transitions are complicated and that statement is a gross Orientalist over-simplification.
Polemical public figures who provoke protests upon their arrival or an outpouring of public response to their ideologies and work are as telling of the values and issues precious to Tunisian public opinion as they are of the controversial figures themselves.
Secularists defeated Islamists is the verdict most commonly reported in international news outlets; Victory and defeat are relative, Tunisian journalists estimate. The politicization of the secularist-Islamist conflict throughout the Ben Ali’s tenure and the increased occurrences of religious violence after the revolution reflect a true conflict that is by no means the defining feature of the country’s democratic transition nor the 2014 elections. The ISIE’s final tally last week represents «a surprising defeat for the Islamist Nahda party» only for those who do not read beyond the titles of foreign news reports that refrain from examining the intricacies of and history behind party politics over the past four years.
Ennahdha’s lack of transparency around its agreement with Burson-Mersteller gives rise to inevitable suspicion that the transaction, contrary to encouraging «free and fair elections in Tunisia» might in fact undermine them. Ambiguity around the financial aspect of the deal (“Fees and expenses to be determined at a later date,” reads the official registration document) is a particular concern after political parties’ financial mismanagement in past elections.
Even if it is for the lack of up-to-date and relevant data produced and diffused by Tunisian government institutions, that Tunisian media draws from foreign mainstream reports without questioning the validity of the data, analysis, or sources used–reporting through the grapevine, as it were–is a practice that diminishes rather than enhances the quality of dialogue on current issues. Noteworthy, for example, is the number of news agencies that have referenced the recent CNN International study and imprecisely or incorrectly attributed it to the Washington-based non-profit Pew Research Center.
What Euchi demonstrates in The Disappointment of the Revolution is the falling short of an effective transitional justice process, a degredation of standards since 2011 that has witnessed the successive criminalization of former regime officials to their pardoning, to the concession of their right to engage in politics. Those who were initially seen as “enemies” of the state have gradually come to be recognized as political equals, now rivals now allies as per the momentary needs of political parties vying for electoral ground.
The adoption of a charter signifying convergence on the ‘rules of the game,’ is precisely the sort of written agreement recommended by the International Crisis Group for continued, limited consensus that distinguishes healthy political party competition from enmity spurred by the prioritization of personal/partisan gain and power.
The interim government’s approach to addressing terrorism is a continual source of public discontentment, and heightened security issues have directly influenced citizenry’s reticence to participate in political processes, according to several La Presse and Nawaat reports. On the same day that the Ministry of National Defense reported on the Jebel Ouergha explosion, the High Independent Authority for Elections (ISIE) announced the markedly low turnout for voter registration.
Taking an inventory of reports over the past two weeks that convey the clamor and chaos of Tunisia’s party politics gearing up for elections in October, one can appreciate a newfound irony in the attribution of—and the granting of an award for—’consensus’ to the Ennahda (or, for that matter, any other political) party.