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Tunisia: the return of the old regime

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Issue 397

In Tunisia’s recent parliamentary elections Nida Tunis (Call for Tunisia) secured 85 MPs in the 217-seat parliament, with the former governing party Ennahda (Islamic Renaissance) trailing with 69 seats.

The party is now projected to win the presidential elections in December, with its leader Beji Caid Essebsi — former politician of the old regime — set to displace the incumbent, Mohammed Moncef Marzouki.

Nida Tunis’s election victory represents a stabilisation of the system that was close to collapse following the 2011 Tunisian revolution.

It is an alliance that brings together political figures of the old regime, businessmen who benefited from the endemic corruption of former dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, liberals, some trade union figures and left wing opportunists.

Is a strange mix that is aimed at confronting the moderate Ennahda Islamists, as well as the radical Salafis. It represents an attempt to restore stability to the country five years after the outbreak of the Arab Spring revolution.

There can be no doubt that Nida Tunis has benefited from the network of corruption fostered under the former regime. Its election campaign relied heavily on the former dictator’s networks of supporters.

At the beginning of this year top political figures and members of the old security services were released from jail, along with many of the security forces who were involved in the killing of the protesters.

Nida Tunis has proved to be better at maintaining order than Ennahda, and has gained popularity among the middle classes and many elderly voters.

Unfortunately, Nidal Tunis’s victory confirms the success of the ruling class in restoring the prestige of the state.

It represents a new opportunity for the regime to project itself as the defender of “modernity” against the Islamists, and claims to do so in the name of democracy and the revolution.

Over the past four years the regime used two tactics to restore its credibility. The first was to launch the “war on terror” on Islamist militants, by raising the fear of disintegration of the state and the possibility that the country would collapse into “darkness”. The second was its ability to do this without much opposition.

Despite its victory, the elections still represent an achievement of the people. This does not mean that we promote the idea that the election is proof of the success of the democratic transition in the country, especially as none of the demands of the revolution have been met — justice for the martyrs and those wounded in the uprising, as well as social and economic justice.

The campaign by some on the left to boycott the election was the wrong option, as it gave the ruling class a free ride in the electoral battle.

It was right to participate in the elections despite the absence of a revolutionary alternative. We have to face the ruling class in every possible battle.

For the regime the elections represented a way to ride out growing public pressure.

The left wing Popular Front played a role in creating a false awareness around Nida Tunis when it approached the party during popular demonstrations against Ennahda in 2013 and declared it part of the “democratic family”.

Ennahda came to office in the 2011 elections in alliance with the secular Congress for the Republic, and the Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties. This was known as the Troika.

The Troika’s failures in government led to its decline. The government tarnished the image of the revolution, allowing Nida Tunis to rise to prominence on the back of growing popular disillusionment.

Nida Tunis projected itself as the only force capable of beating Islamists.

Ennahda now wants to integrate itself into the system, even declaring that it is willing to join Nida Tunis in forming a government of national unity.

This does not mean that Nida Tunis’s election victory represents a desire for the people to turn the clock back to the days before the revolution.

But hanging over the elections is the spectre of the Egyptian coup. There was a strong desire that Tunisia would not take the Egyptian road, and witness the levels of repression faced by the people there.

In this sense the rapprochement between Nida Tunis and Ennahda serves the ruling class. The regime wants to continue to implement its unpopular neoliberal programme, but to do this it requires a strong security apparatus.

But real democracy cannot succeed in Tunisia without a struggle by workers for social justice.

The left wing Popular Front played an important role in unifying the struggle against the Troika government and grew in popularity in the working class.

But it unfortunately gave up the leadership of the struggle at its peak in late 2013 when it threw its weight behind the “war against terrorism”. It did this without warning of the dangers that this war would herald the return of state terrorism and the widespread human rights violations perpetrated against the Islamist radicals.

As a result the Popular Front strengthened the system and paved the way for electoral success of Nida Tunis.

This rapprochement with the Nida Tunis led many in the party to criticise the leaders.

The Popular Front is set to win 15 seats in the new parliament, mainly from deprived areas that have seen a continuation of class struggle and strong trade union presence. But if it simply becomes a voice for criticising the incoming government, and not a voice for the abolition of the system as a whole, it will lead to more failures in the future.

This is an edited version of an interview given to Egypt’s Revolutionary Socialists. Go to for the full interview in Arabic.

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