Political Editor: The Majalla
on : Tuesday, 12 Feb, 2013
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Secularists Stick Around

Crisis deepens as president's party rejects government plan

Congress for the Republic Secretary General Mohamed Abbou (C) addresses a press conference on February 11, 2013 in Tunis in which he said Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki's secular party would stay in the coalition government, pending the resignation of key ministers from the ruling Islamist party. Source: GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images

Congress for the Republic Secretary General Mohamed Abbou (C) addresses a press conference on February 11, 2013 in Tunis in which he said Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki’s secular party would stay in the coalition government, pending the resignation of key ministers from the ruling Islamist party. Source: GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images

TUNIS, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Tunisian Congress for the Republic (CPR) party, led by President Moncef Marzouki, has decided to stay in the ruling coalition for another week, but maintained its call for key Islamist ministers to resign.

Marzouki’s secular party had threatened to pull out of the Islamist-led government, which would have plunged the country deeper into political crisis. However, in a press conference yesterday, party chief Mohamed Abbou told reporters, “We have decided to freeze our decision to withdraw our ministers from the government, but if in one week we don’t see any changes, we will quit the government.”

The CPR wants the resignation of the justice and foreign ministers from Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali’s Islamist party, Ennahda, amid soaring political tension after the killing of leftist opposition figure Chokri Belaid.

“Two days ago, we presented the resignation of our ministers, but we were contacted yesterday evening by the leaders of Ennahda, who replied favorably to all our demands,” Abbou told reporters.

The CPR is one of two junior non-Islamist partners in a coalition dominated by the Islamist Ennahda party. Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali said after Wednesday’s assassination of leftist politician Chokri Belaid that he would form a non-partisan government of technocrats to run the country until elections can be held later in the year. Senior politicians in Ennahda and its coalition partners had criticized Jebali for failing to consult them first.

Belaid’s killing—Tunisia’s first political assassination in decades—has thrown the government and the country into turmoil, widening rifts between the dominant Islamist Ennahda party and its secular-minded opponents.

The slain politician’s widow, Besma Belaid, called on Monday for Jebali and his cabinet to step down. “My only demand is the resignation of the government which failed to guarantee the security of Chokri Belaid,” she told the Reuters news agency outside the National Constituent Assembly, where she and several hundred supporters had gathered.

“They must go, all of them, including the prime minister,” she said. “The game is over. If they stay, one fears to see other assassinations in this climate of fear and violence.”

Since Wednesday, Tunisia has seen street clashes between police and opposition supporters and attacks on Ennahda offices, while Chokri Belaid’s funeral on Friday turned into a massive anti-Islamist rally, believed to be the largest since the revolution.

“The people want to protect the legitimacy of the ballot,” pro-Ennahda protesters shouted on Saturday on Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the epicenter of the 2010 uprising that ousted ex-dictator Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.

Chokri Belaid, who accused the ruling Islamist party of stealing the revolution, was gunned down outside his home. His supporters and family openly blamed Ennahda for eliminating him, a charge it has flatly denied.

The killing has inflamed tensions between liberals and Islamists, simmering for months over the future direction of the once proudly secular Muslim nation, and stoked by a controversial pro-Ennahda militia blamed for attacks on secular opposition groups. Divisions in the national assembly have also blocked progress on the drafting of a new constitution.

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