“Barakesh has brought this upon herself” goes the popular Arabic saying when somebody inflicts dispensable damage on himself/herself or his/her people. This proverb could apply to the Tunisian government as events have recently erupted and the political scene is fraught with tension.

“Barakesh has brought this upon herself” goes the popular Arabic saying when somebody inflicts dispensable damage on himself/herself or his/her people. This proverb could apply to the Tunisian government as events have recently erupted and the political scene is fraught with tension.

The decision to hand over Baghdadi Mahmudi, the last prime minister in Libya before the fall of Gaddafi’s regime, has revealed deep cleavage in the ruling coalition of three parties: the Islamic Ennahda Movement, the centre-left Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties – Ettakatol Party (Forum démocratique pour le travail et les libertés – FDTL) and the center Congress for the Republic Party (Congrès pour la République – CPR). The troika parties have always tried to disguise and hide these differences under the guise of a protocol, diplomatic smiles and desperate defense of the partners’ political choices, even if they conflict with ideological references and backgrounds.

Rebellion versus submission in the president’s party

The ruling troika is contradictory because it goes against political nature. Each party defends a certain vision and adopts an ideology contrary to that of the other two parties. The Muslim Brotherhood-referenced Ennahda heralds a civilizational project that contradicts, in principle, the convictions of FDTL which, since its inception, has defended a modernist state based on the universal principles of human rights.  It is the same trend, in theory, of the CPR, which ‘fell’ hostage to its “Islamist” wing that has led it to Islamists’ bosom in a systematic containment process that has deprived it from its luster as a struggling party.

The most prominent symbols of CPR have seceded from it and founded the ‘Wafaa Movement’, a symbolic move confirming that the dissidents still cling to their ‘original’ ideas. They consider that they have endured repression and torture for their ideas and that these ideas cannot be erased today through a mere signature by Ennahda, even through a ‘political deal’ by which Moncef Marzouki, the CPR resigned leader, has managed to be the president –a powerless figurehead – provided that he remains dutiful to the Islamists.

Even though the troika parties have, at the beginning of their rule, expressed enthusiasm in experiencing a coalition government for the first time in modern Tunisian history and bet on tsuccess during the time of the revolution, the period of democratic transition has been the most difficult in the history of the peoples who lived through similar experiences. The troika could only manage to stumble, be confused and disagree in the resolution of political issues.

A  ‘booby-trapped’ agreement

With the launch of political consultations between the three parties, the issue of negotiating about the assignment of ministerial portfolios was a fuse of the dispute. Higher governmental positions made the negotiating figures’ mouths water, and Ennahda, through these negotiations, found an opportunity to “tame” the parties’ leaders it was negotiating with, to share the ministries.

Backed by its constituent majority, the Ennahda Party was keen to fortify itself through seizing the sovereignty ministries, such as Justice, Interior and Foreign Affairs, while maintaining the Minister of Defense in the government of former Prime Minister, Beji Caid el Sebsi. The rest of the ministries, however, were distributed under the ‘deal’ of the parties’ quotas, a deal that was ably managed by the Ennahda Movement, which left no room for any maneuver, and sought to satisfy its negotiators rather than the parties they represent.

Division of this ‘political booty’ led to muffled outrage among the remaining activists of the two parties, which was a beginning to mining their internal house, especially that some leaderships began to resent their party’s share of the portfolios.

While FDTL, whose leader has become the Chairman of the Constituent Assembly, attempted to contain the internal anger, the ember of anger subsided but was not extinguished and floated on the surface again in the form of withdrawals of prominent political leaders of FDTL, such as Saleh Shoaib, Head of the University of Sousse, and CPR seemed the most likely to crack and split the day after the formation of the troika government as the internal conflict turned into public accusations among the CPR symbols and central figures.

Some of the CPR leaders and representatives in the Constituent Assembly did not hesitate to expose internal files in the media. The conflict reached its peak between the minister of employment, Abdulwahab Mwattar and Abdulraouf Ayadi, who seceded later and formed the Wafaa Movement with his dissident comrades.  The CPR supporters exchanged serious accusations that affected its reputation. In the end, the CPR leaderships were distributed among ministers in the troika, the Consultative Group of the President and the Wafaa Movement, whose affiliates consider themselves one of the CPR activists who has stuck to the revolution’s convictions and chosen to give up a ‘nominal political prestige’.

Insurgency of the president’s advisers 

During the first session of the Constituent Assembly to decide on the subjects of the provisional organization of public authorities, or the so-called “little constitution,” the opposition fiercely defended the president’s powers. Ennahda has however seized these powers and given them to the premier who has eventually taken up the reins of powers and of the state.

Although Marzouki seemed submissive to the provisions of the strong political partner, the opposition was finally able to seize some powers for him, though most of them remained subject to the premier’s consent. After weeks of actual practice of ruling under the troika, the presidency felt that the rug was pulled out from under its feet, and even the president was poked fun at, especially on social networking websites.

Perhaps these stripped powers provoked the president’s advisers, as some of them resigned, most recently the media advisor, Ayoub Massoudi. However, one of the strongest media reactions came from the presidency spokesman, Adnan Munassar – known for equanimity and civility – who could not keep himself from writing in a prominent website, a fiery article entitled ‘For the Government Not to Dig Its Grave and That of the Revolution’s.’ The article disturbed the troika deeply and marked the beginning of the open dispute between the presidency and the government.

Munssar apologized later, admitting that he had breached the duty of reservation, which he should abide by as a spokesman for the president, in an attempt to defuse the dispute, but the situation exploded again with handing-over or “smuggling” Baghdadi Mahmudi to Libya without informing any party, even his family’s. The government received sharp criticism for what the presidency considered ‘a right’s abuse and blatant transgression of the president’s powers.’

The troika crisis continued with the resignation of Mohamed Abbou, the CPR Secretary General from his post, as a minister of administrative reform in protest against his limited powers.

Despite ‘covering’ the resignation with a lot of diplomacy, things seemed worrying in the troika house, especially with the fierce battle in the Constituent Assembly about the nature of the coming regime in Tunisia, which Ennahda struggles to make parliamentary one. It was Mohammed Abbou’s wife, Samia Abbou, a member of the Constituent Assembly, who triggered the dispute.

Like the interim president who wondered: “Tunisia! Where to?” We, in turn, ask “Troika! Where to?”