Political uncertainty in Tunisia reached new heights on Tuesday following the resignation of moderate Islamist Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali following his failure to appoint a technocrat, caretaker government to end the ongoing political crisis.
Jebali, who had warned of chaos if his plan fell through, made a last ditch effort to push for “another solution” and was due to meet President Moncef Marzouki late afternoon.
Jebali met with the cabinet in the morning to say goodbye and to ask them to “continue to expedite current matters,” one government member earlier said.
The prime minister was left out on a limb on Monday after Ennahda rejected his proposals for a non-partisan government, exacerbating Tunisia’s biggest political crisis since the uprising two years ago.
Jebali first floated his initiative in the wake of public outrage over the killing in broad daylight of outspoken government critic Chokri Belaid by a lone gunman outside his Tunis home on February 6.
The murder enflamed simmering tensions between liberals and Islamists in the once proudly secular Muslim nation, with Belaid’s family accusing Ennahda of his assassination, a charge the Islamists strongly deny.
Islamists in Tunisia, like their counterparts in Egypt, have waited for so long to be in power after toppling authoritarian secular regimes ruling their countries for decades.
Khaled Choukat, a Tunisia-based analyst, said Ennahda, who didn’t win an overwhelming majority vote of 43 percent during the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) elections on October 2011, is ardent on monopolizing power and will not wholeheartedly succumb to opposition demands.
“The likely two scenarios is either Ennahda to form a new government made of its hawk supporters, or yield to moderate opposition demands by forming a technocrat government,” Choukat said.
According to the analyst, Ennahda can choose an opposition figure that is accepted by Islamists and moderate opposition members in an attempt to sideline opposition “radicals.”
For months, the ruling coalition has failed to overhaul the government, laying bare divisions within Ennahda.
Jebali’s resignation doesn’t sound the alarm that there is a division in Ennahda, the Islamist party he belongs to, as he has few supporters.
“His few supporters in Ennahda were shy to defend him when he announced his resignation,” Choukat said, adding “Jebali’s resignation shows that he is a mature, credible statesman.”
Choukat warns if political tensions continue in Tunisia, the army will not keep quiet and can intervene.
Jebali admitted defeat in his plan, which he had hoped would be able to overcome the political divisions that have been blamed for igniting Salafist-led violence across the country in recent months.
But he said “another form of government” was still a possibility.
And he insisted that, despite its failure, his initiative had at least succeeded in “getting everyone around a table” and in preventing Tunisia “from falling into the unknown.”
His plans had been bitterly opposed by Ennahda hardliners, represented by the veteran party leader Rached Ghannouchi, who are refusing to give up key portfolios and insist on Ennahda’s electoral legitimacy.
The Islamists control the interior, foreign and justice ministries and dominate the national assembly.
Ghannouchi said the representatives of some 15 parties had agreed on Monday on the need for a government with “political competences” and tasked with holding elections as soon as possible.
“We in Ennahda want to ensure that Jebali continues to chair (the cabinet), and so do all those who took part in this meeting,” he told AFP.
Germany's foreign minister on Wednesday called for squabbling factions in Tunisia to come together "in a spirit of dialogue".
Guido Westerwelle said in a statement that Berlin was "very closely watching" the situation in the North African country "in these critical days for its democratic development."
Expressing his "respect" for Jebali, Westerwelle said: "I call on all political forces to come together in a spirit of dialogue and heal the rifts that are currently dividing the country."
Westerwelle said he wanted to "expressly praise" all those who were doing their best to push through a democratic transition in Tunisia after the country's uprising two years ago to oust dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.