Less than 90 minutes after it began, the national dialogue eagerly awaited by the entire country, came to an abrupt halt.

Leaks from all facets of Tunisian politics revealed a consensus among all parties that Abdul Kareem al-Zubaidi, a doctor who had previously assumed the defense portfolio in Beji Caid Essebsi’s government, would be the preferred new leader of the government.

Less than 90 minutes after it began, the national dialogue eagerly awaited by the entire country, came to an abrupt halt.

Leaks from all facets of Tunisian politics revealed a consensus among all parties that Abdul Kareem al-Zubaidi, a doctor who had previously assumed the defense portfolio in Beji Caid Essebsi’s government, would be the preferred new leader of the government.

Yet it appears that most of those who sat down around the dialogue table were hiding the opposite of what they declared when Ennahda announced from Carthage Palace that interim President Mohamed Moncef Marzouki refused the appointment of Abdul Kareem al-Zubaidi to head the government. 

After this announcement, Hussein Abbasi, Secretary-General of the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT), announced that the four organizations sponsoring the dialogue would suspend it, claiming no responsibility for what might happen after the adoption of the decision. “There is no meaning in a dialogue with the absence of commitment by some parties of the Constituent Assembly,” Abbasi said.  

But the response of Marzouki, who was in Paris participating in the UNESCO 37 Conference’s activities, contradicted allegations made by the Ennahda Movement. A statement issued by the presidency refuted allegations blaming the presidency for rejecting the candidate who received consensus.

The presidency confirmed that Marzouki did not object to any specific candidate and that such allegations were used in the dialogue to influence the stances of some of the parties involved in it. It stressed that no party made contact with the president and that Marzouki had not been consulted in person.

Failure reveals the truth

The failure of the national dialogue revealed that the parties were not really looking for a consensus as much as they were looking for a person who would ensure their continuity in power, which explains the insistence of the Ennahda Movement on the nomination of former minister under Bourguiba Ahmed Mestiri (88 years old), despite the many criticisms against this candidate by virtue of his age and his closeness to the Islamic Ennahda Movement Party.

Rached Ghannouchi considered Mestiri to be the “father of democracy in Tunisia” and “an ethical and moderate person”. Marzouki said he could not find justification for the opposition to reject Mestri.  

Ghannouchi interpreted this rejection saying: “Mestiri is independent to the extent of stubbornness and he does not yield to any person,” stressing that the ruling troika would only give this very precious position to an independent personality. 

The Ennahda Movement may have supported Ahmed Mestiri because he is also supported by the Republican Party (considered as an opposition party).

Najib Chebbi, the head of the Republican Party’s political commission, said that his party had opened an outlet for the Ennahda movement through its support of its proposal. He added that the existing conflict is due to the opposition wanting to be assured of fair elections, the neutralization of the administration, and a power transfer within the framework of consensus from his hand to independent hands for fear of a misuse of power.

Chebbi noted: “The ruling party was searching for guarantees to ensure that there is no deviation in the authority and this is a legitimate thing to do because of the tensed conditions and mutual accusations. The outright rejection of Mestiri does not help in finding a solution.”

Chebbi is facing accusations that he is searching for a sovereign position by virtue of his kinship to Mestiri.

Before leaving the meeting hall, and after sitting for more than 11 hours, Beji Caid Essebsi, the former president of the Tunisian government and the head of the Nidaa Tounes Party, accused the Ennahda Movement of blowing up the dialogue and explicitly said: “This is called a coup against dialogue!”

Sebsi said that he had no reservations regarding the nomination of the national freedom fighter Ahmed Mestiri, referring to him as “A person with a great history struggle to lead the government during the next phase.”

Ennahda swims against the current

According to Sebsi, there is a majority that did not support his candidacy and since the logic of dialogue is based on consensus, a compromise should be reached.

Sebsi also accused Ennahda of “swimming against the current” and not interested in finding solutions for a successful dialogue. “This is unacceptable,” he said, “It wants to have the final word in the process of choosing the head of government and it also wants to give itself the right to choose all by itself.

Sebsi believes that on the basis of this selective and monopolistic approach, there is no meaning in moving towards a dialogue gathering all parties because the government wants to remain in power, which is contrary to the people’s will. He added that “those who rule the country do not want to cede power despite their failure.”

Observers believe that the troika succeeded in political maneuvering and was able to bring the Republican Party to support it. By doing so, it was capable of breaking the opposition Salvation Front, changing the rules of procedure of the council and thwarting the opposition from disrupting the work of the Constituent Assembly.

The four-sponsors of the national dialogue: the Tunisian General Labour Union, the Tunisian Union of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts, the Tunisian League for Human Rights Defense and the National Bar Association, have criticized the political disputes between the parties. Widad Bouchmawi, President of the Tunisian Union of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts said that politicians have disappointed the Tunisian people and that the country is in danger.

A significant number of trade unionists from the Tunisian General Labour Union, the Tunisian Union of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts, the Tunisian League for Human Rights Defense and the National Bar Association, expressed deep dissatisfaction about the dominance of narrow political interests at the expense of the interests and fate of the country, which has created a feeling of hopelessness and despair about reaching consensus not based on narrow partisan interests.