Tunisians celebrated the third anniversary Tuesday of the overthrow of a decades-old dictatorship in the first Arab Spring uprising, but political bickering has hampered adoption of a new constitution by this symbolic deadline.
Tunisia’s leaders launched a low-key ceremony in the Kasbah district of the capital, where the government’s headquarters are located, to mark the event.
President Moncef Marzouki, outgoing prime minister Ali Larayedh and his designated successor, Mehdi Jomaa, all attended the ceremony along with other top officials.
By late morning, amid tight security, thousands of flag-waving Tunisians rallied peacefully along Habib Bourguiba Avenue, epicentre of the mass protests that drove long-time autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power on January 14, 2011 and inspired revolts across the Arab world.
The main groups demonstrating were supporters and critics of Ennahda, the moderate Islamist party that was voted to power after Ben Ali’s downfall, but which finally resigned last week under an agreement to end months of political turmoil.
Clouding the anniversary was the country’s heavily delayed future charter, which was due to have been agreed on by Tuesday but remains a work in progress.
A third of around 150 articles in the text have yet to be examined after nearly two weeks of debate, and key provisions have been rejected by lawmakers during fractious sessions in parliament in recent days.
These include articles on the eligibility criteria for the head of state and the prerogatives of the prime minister, with lawmakers also rejecting a crucial article on the government’s role in nominating judges, after an acrimonious debate in the national assembly.
An alternative provision must now be negotiated.
“We must prepare the country for the constitution that it deserves,” said Ajmi Lourimi, an Ennahda party leader, addressing Islamist protesters.
“The time for military coups is past, because the people will defend their revolution,” he added, indirectly criticising the military ouster in Egypt of democratically elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last July after one year in power.
In turn, opposition leaders took a swipe at Ennahda.
“Despite the difficulties, the obstacles and the deception of the people, this revolution was made to succeed,” said Issam Chebbi, a leader of the Republican Party.
Tunisians are awaiting the formation of a caretaker government of technocrats under Jomaa, the non-partisan former industry ministry tasked with leading the country to fresh elections and getting Tunisia’s democratic transition back on track.
His appointment followed the voluntary resignation of Ennahda, which had headed the coalition government since its election triumph in October 2011.
Its tenure was dogged by a sharp rise in Islamist violence, ongoing social unrest and a political crisis triggered by the assassination of opposition MP Mohamed Brahmi last July by suspected jihadist militants, the second of its kind in 2013.
‘On the right track’
In a televised speech on Monday evening, President Marzouki admitted that the country’s leaders had not satisfied the hopes that accompanied the uprising three years ago.
“We are very far from realising the objectives of the revolution,” he said.
But he insisted that Tunisia was on “the right track, (even if) the path is still difficult and dangerous.”
He also hailed what he called the “Tunisian miracle” that has preserved “freedom, security and a model of modernity,” despite the wave of attacks blamed on jihadist militants, and a growing number of strikes and protests in recent months that often turn violent.
The latest unrest erupted last week, with a number of demonstrations, fuelled by the poverty and unemployment that were driving factors behind the uprising that toppled Ben Ali, giving way to clashes between police and protesters.
The protests were concentrated in Tunisia’s marginalised central region, where a young street vendor sparked the revolution by setting himself on fire in December 2010 to protest his impoverished circumstances.
The Tunisian press was divided on Tuesday between cautious optimism and disenchantment about the future.
Le Temps lamented that the revolution driven by Tunisia’s youth had been “hijacked” by politics.
But the Tunisian daily also sounded a positive note, saying the North African country would “manage to avoid the worst.”
“Soon, we will have a non-political government which will lead us safely to elections, and we will have a constitution that promises to be modern.”