I ended my previous entry with word that Hamadi Jebali, Tunisia’s prime minister, had just appeared on television and declared that the current government would be dissolved and replaced by one composed of ‘technocrats’, who’d keep the country running on automatic pilot until the holding of new elections. Jebali’s announcement, it transpires, came as news to the other members of his party, the supposedly moderate-Islamist Ennahdha Party that’s the biggest player in the coalition government. Jebali’s own deputy prime minister, Abdelhamid Jelassi, said subsequently that “(t)he prime minister did not ask the opinion of his party.” To put poor old Mr Jebali firmly in his place, he added, “We in Ennahdha believe Tunisia needs a political government now.” (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/fresh-crisis-in-tunisia-as-pms-party-turns-against-him-8485947.html.)
On the Internet today I’ve read speculation about what Jebali was up to when he announced this end-of-government-that-wasn’t. Some online commentators praised him for trying to put the good of his country ahead of his own personal and party interests – the disappearance of the current Ennahdha-dominated government would certainly be balm for Tunisia’s sizeable opposition forces, who this week were outraged by the assassination of left-wing politician and lawyer Chokri Belaid. Other commentators speculated that what Jebali was proposing was part of a Machiavellian plot, whereby he’d split Ennahdha in two and, as head of a new faction, secure more power and influence for himself. Other commentators again suggested that his let’s-dissolve-the-government declaration was merely a case of Jebali running around like a headless chicken after Belaid’s murder.
I tend towards that last opinion. For the same reason, I don’t really believe the conspiracy theories that have circulated since Chokri Belaid was gunned down outside his house on Wednesday morning – theories alleging that he died as a result of a secret and unholy alliance between Ennahdha (some have even pointed the finger at Ennahdha’s supreme leader Rachid Ghannouchi himself) and violent Islamic extremists. For one thing, conspiracies involve intelligence on behalf of the conspirators, intelligence to plan and execute things – and governmental intelligence has not been much in evidence during the last year or so, judging from how Tunisia has been run.
However, one symptom of the government’s lack-of-intelligence has been its failure to tackle acts of violence and intimidation by Salafists and other extremists, which has only emboldened them in their attacks on anything offending their ultra-delicate sensibilities: politicians, journalists, academics, dramatists, painters, galleries, campuses, bars, Sufi mausoleums, foreign embassies, foreign schools… And the anything-goes climate that’s resulted from the government’s incompetence and / or complacency certainly did contribute to Belaid’s murder. So I suppose, in a way, the government is implicated.
Meanwhile, tomorrow – Friday – sees both Belaid’s funeral in Tunis and a general strike organised by the UGTT, the Tunisian trade union body, in protest against his death. And of course Friday is also mosque-day. I suspect that in the many mosques that have been infiltrated and taken over by Salafists during the two years since the revolution, hellfire-and-brimstone preachers will be ordering their faithful to take up arms and defend Islam against the godless communists, socialists, liberals, secularists and atheists who are stalking the streets outside.
The last general strike in Tunisia took place in 1978, during the rule of Habib Bourguiba, and it resulted in the arrest of the entire UGTT leadership and a death toll, officially, of 42. (http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/tunisia/politics-1978.htm.) Unofficial estimates of the number of people killed are much higher, however – one Tunisian acquaintance today told me it had been about ‘300’. Let’s hope that what happens this Friday is a lot less bloody.