While the anti-government protesters gathering daily before the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) have been unified in their calls for the dissolution of the assembly and the government, the actions and rhetoric of opposition politicians, parties, and the country's major labor union have more dissonant.
Tunisia has been locked in a political crisis since the death of opposition NCA member Mohamed Brahmi on July 25. Major opposition parties united as the National Salvation Front, calling for the dissolution of the assembly and the government and their replacement with a non-partisan government that would finalize a new constitution and prepare for elections.
Last Thursday, Khmais Ksila, a member of the executive board of the opposition party Nidaa Tounes, said in an interview that his party considered the dissolution of the NCA and the government to be a precondition for any dialogue with the ruling Ennahdha party. [display_posts type=”related” limit=”3″ position=”right”]
Such dialogue, however, seemed to take place that same day, as Nidaa Tounes leader Beji Caid Essebsi and his Ennahdha counterpart, Rached Ghannouchi met to seek common ground and discuss a solution to the ongoing political crisis. An Ennahdha statement called the meeting frank and positive.
Meanwhile, in front of the NCA, the rahil protest led by withdrawn NCA opposition members continued, featuring anti-Ghannouchi and anti-Ennahdha slogans and demands for the ouster of current government and dissolution of the NCA.
As Tunisia's political crisis approaches the one-month mark, fractures within the National Salvation Front are increasingly visible.
The dynamics of Tunisia's political opposition have been steadily changing since the January 2011 revolution. Coalitions within coalitions have formed and changed since the 2011 NCA election resulted in the Islamist Ennahdha party winning a plurality of seats and forming a governing coalition.
While the opposition parties have never been consistently unified, they have shown periods of brief cooperation.
Opposition parties seemed largely united in the wake of Mohamed Brahmi's assassination and the start of the rahil protests in Bardo. Supporters of all major parties in the National Salvation Front attended the rallies, with the popularity of the united opposition presenting a major challenge to the ruling Ennahdha party.
Cohesion by opposition parties seems to have weakened, however, with differing initiatives and messages emerging between members of the opposition.
The protests are largely a project of the Popular Front, al-Masaar, and members formerly belonging to the al-Joumhouri party, who combined represent most of the withdrawn NCA members. Speeches at the rallies have largely come from members of the these groups.
While its members participate in the Bardo rallies, the Popular Front recently announced its own initiative, which has yet to be fully embraced by Nidaa Tounes or the UGTT, Tunisia's largest labor union. Calling it Irhal, the coalition is demanding the ouster of governors and public officials appointed by the current coalition, saying the appointments reflect political favoritism. [display_posts type=”same_author” limit=”3″ position=”right”]
The UGTT, for its part, has been playing the role of power broker between parties. While the union in the past has stood firmly with opposition groups, its response to the current crisis has been more tempered since declaring a general strike for the day following Brahmi's assassination.
Houcine Abbassi, leader of the UGTT, following a meeting Monday with Ennahdha leader Rached Ghannouchi, demands the dissolution of the current government in favor of a technocrat-led government, but sees a role for the NCA to continue its work.
Abbassi will be meeting with opposition groups Tuesday to pass on proposals from Ghannouchi, which came out of a meeting between the UGTT and Ennahdha leaders Monday, according to Ammar Amrousia of the Popular Front. It remains unclear what, if any, compromises have emerged from the meetings involving Abbassi, Essebsi, and Ghannouchi.
Ghannouchi is reported to have offered Essebsi the presidency and four ministry positions to the opposition in a new government, but the Nidaa Tounes leader refused the offer, according to multiple opposition sources.
Zoubeir Chehoudi, a member of Ennahdha's Shura Council, said he could neither confirm nor deny Ghannouchi's offer to Essebsi. He added that the contents of Ghannouchi's meeting with Abbassi will remain secret.
Nidaa Tounes is in a unique position as a powerful opposition party lacking significant representation in the NCA, which has limited their influence over the Bardo protests. The Paris meeting represents a departure from their own stated stance as well as that of other opposition camps.
Lazher Akremi, a spokesperson for Nidaa Tounes, sought to downplay the significance of the Paris meeting, calling it a personal meeting rather than an example of national dialogue. He did however, confirm Ghannouchi's offer of the presidency to Essebsi.
Akremi also confirmed that Essebsi remained firm in the same demand for the dissolution of the government and NCA held by his party's opposition partners, saying that the meeting between the two leaders did not end with any concessions. Nidaa Tounes, he said, remains committed to its alliance with the Popular Front and other opposition parties.
The Popular Front, however, questioned Nidaa Tounes' aims, saying that the proposed law for the protection of the revolution is at the center of the party's negotiations with Ennahdha.
If Nidaa Tounes is exempted from the law for the protection of the revolution, they will reach an agreement with Ennahdha, said Amrousia, a member of the Popular Front's executive board.
The proposed law would forbid individuals associated with the former Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali regime from participating in politics and could potentially bar many members of Nidaa Tounes from the political field.
The opposition's apparent disarray stands in contrast to Ennahdha's party discipline.
This past weekend the party's Shura Council, which determines the party's policy positions and strategy, met to decide on a path forward out of the crisis. The resulting statement was largely an echo of Ghannouchi's press remarks last week, drawing heavily on events in Egypt and encouraging what it deemed the completion of the democratic transition in Tunisia.
Nissaf Salma contributed reporting.