Islamists fall from grace: Will Tunisia’s Ennahda follow the Brotherhood

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The assassination of Tunisia’s left-wing opposition leader Mohammad al-Brahimi piled pressures on the Ennahda-led cabinet, with oppositional forces escalating action to make a second post-Arab Spring Islamist government fall.

Ennahda and its ruling troika partners – Congress for the Republic (CPR) and Ettakatol – succeeded in weathering a previous storm created by the assassination of secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid on Feb 6, 2013.

Following Belaid’s killing, former Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali resigned and a new cabinet was swiftly formed. This move coupled with assurances to confront Islamist militants restored calm, albeit only for a short period.

But continuous economic problems and the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule in Egypt are helping keep the crisis brewing in Tunisia. The assassination of Brahimi last Thursday revived street momentum against Ennahda.

On Friday, a general strike brought the country to a standstill. Secular parties formed a National Salvation Front, urging civil disobedience and organizing a sit-in outside the national assembly, which they demand should be dissolved together with the government.

“The assassination of Mohammad al-Brahimi created a political earthquake that will not pass peacefully this time,” said Alaya Allani, a Tunisian political analyst.

Allani said the Islamist Ennahda party, which holds 87 seats of the 217-member constituent assembly “made major mistakes and has failed to ensure security following the previous assassination of Belaid.”

Following Belaid’s assassination in February, Ennahda succeeded in absorbing the popular anger with the resignation of the prime minister, said Jomai Gasmi, another political analyst.

“Today Ennahda finds itself in a very embarrassing situation because most of the political forces came together within the National Salvation Front calling for the fall of this government and the national assembly,” he said.

“Now Ennahda has to meet the demands of these political forces and will not happen without an escalation in the street,” Gasmi said. “Right now there is action in the street but it is not enough as to have an effect on Ennahda party.”

Gasmi said the anti-Ennahda movement is growing and will reach its peak in September when students return to school and to political activism.

Brahimi's funeral on Saturday attracted thousands of people, with many chanting anti-Ennahda slogans, accusing it of failing to control the more hardline Islamist groups using violence against them.

Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou said Brahimi was shot 14 times using the same 9mm semi-automatic gun that was used to kill Belaid in February.

The minister identified Jihadi Salafist Boubakr Hakim, 30, as the main suspect.

Hisham Abboud, editor-in-chief of al-Jarida newspaper, said the scenario of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ouster in Egypt is unlikely to reoccur in Tunisia because Ennahda is not ruling the country alone.

With the secular Congress for the Republic (CPR) and Ettakatol parties, the ruling troika dominates the constituent assembly and enjoys a sweeping public support.

Tunisian sociologist Mohamed Jouili, however, does not rule out Ennahda’s fall from grace. He says its continued existence in the government depends on its ability to make major concessions and bring the assassins of Belaid and Brahimi to justice.

“Major decisions have to be taken in the next 24 hours to 40 in order for Ennahda to reduce the impact of Brahimi’s assassination,” Jouili said.

If the government does not fall in the next few days it is unlikely to fall in the next month or in September,” he added.

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