Marzouki: The Thin Line of Alliance with Islamists

Tunisia's President Moncef Marzouki (L) takes his oath of office as assembly President Mustafa Ben Jaafar (R) looks on at the constituent assembly in Tunis 13 December 2011. (Photo: REUTERS - Zoubeir Souissi)

By: Soufian Shourabi

Published Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The newly elected president of Tunisia, Moncef Marzouki, faces the major challenge of keeping his Islamist allies in check.

Tunis - When newly elected Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki took over the presidency from Fouad Mebazaa, he became the second president in Tunisia’s recent history to move into the Carthage Presidential Palace with a certain degree of electoral legitimacy.

The first was president Habib Bourguiba, who was elected on 8 November 1959 by the Constituent Assembly after the monarchy was overthrown.

Marzouki was elected by a majority of the National Constituent Assembly, in accordance with what is known as the “little constitution,” which is meant to guide the country through the transitional period.

His election begins to define who will be the political authority that will handle the country’s affairs during the upcoming period.

In the 1994 elections, Marzouki tried to run against former President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and was later imprisoned for it. Thanks to the January 14 revolution, however, he now finds himself in the same post Ben Ali ruled from with an iron fist for decades.

Many members of the opposition doubt Marzouki's ability to exert much political influence over the course the country will take, especially since his powers are strictly limited by the law.

However, as a president with strong secular beliefs, he could at least resist the Islamist al-Nahda Party’s attempts to monopolize power and impose its own structure and ideology.

Marzouki’s party, the Congress for the Republic, has a relatively low number of representatives in the Assembly. However, due to American and European pressure, al-Nahda was forced to ally itself with the secularists by granting them important political positions.

Marzouki exchanged his position as head of the Congress for the Republic party for the post of Tunisian president. Likewise, Mustafa Ben Jaafar, the leader of the Ettakatol Party (Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties), another ally of the al-Nahda, was elected head of the Constituent Assembly.

Immediately after taking his oath, Marzouki invited the leaders of all parties to begin the process of forming a new government.

The new president also announced that Hamadi Jebali, a member of the national constituent assembly and the secretary general of al-Nahda, would be named prime minister next Wednesday.

Leaked plans show that al-Nahda will take the ministries of interior, foreign affairs, justice, higher education, and immigration in the new government.

Other ministries will be distributed to al-Nahda’s partners in the ruling alliance, which include the Congress for the Republic and Ettakatol Party. No other parties or independent figures will be represented in the cabinet.

The upcoming government will have to negotiate complex issues, most important of which is the ongoing protest outside the headquarters of the Constituent Assembly.

Hundreds of Tunisians are protesting what they call the “Islamization of Tunis” and the spread of religious extremism, while others are demanding better living conditions, mainly jobs and housing.

The protesters had released a statement addressing the elections, claiming that “the ruling majority is trying to reproduce its very own undemocratic system.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

"However, due to American and European pressure, al-Nahda was forced to ally itself with the secularists by granting them important political positions."

Well this certainly contradicts the rhetoric of leftists and secularists like As'ad AbuKhalil who insist that there is a "western conspiracy" supporting the rise of islamists. This exposes a big a hole in that argument

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