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The Way Out of the Political Gridlock in Tunisia

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Thursday's assassination of the Tunisian political opponent Mohamed Brahmi represents a dangerous breach to the democratic transition process. It sends the signal that political murders could become a regular feature of the political scene in Tunisia and regrettably confirms the escalation of political violence that has been growing in the country as a result of the impunity the perpetrators have been enjoying since the start of Ennahda-led troika government.

Today, all the political opposition parties called for a government of national salvation, a step that could be crucial in order to restore the democratic process and expedite the completion of the transition.

Below is an attempt to clarify the situation.

Political turmoil in the post-revolution Tunisia took a significant dimension with the assassination of Chokri Belaid, the leader of a major progressive political party and an important figure of Tunisia's historical political opposition, in February 2013. The assassination led to a period of deep instability with the resignation of the first Ennahda-led government and the failure to form a government of national unity, which would have sent a signal of greater effort on security and a stronger focus on the preservation of democratic institutions.

Since these events, the mistrust in the government and in the Islamist party of Ennahda in particular has continuously grown even among part of the sympathizers. Several tangible pieces of evidence validate this mistrust.

First, Ennahda party never made the effort to strongly condemn the events and to distance itself from the religious extremists whose involvement in this murder was rapidly uncovered and publicly acknowledged by the government today.

Second, it did not take the necessary measures to calm the situation and address the ongoing pattern of rise in violence. As such, it refused to any action against the Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution, which are today a quasi-religious militia that repeatedly and violently attacks progressive and opposition political parties, neither did it neutralize the mosques that have been transformed into propaganda and violence catalyzer tools in the hands of its base and the radical islamists. In addition, Ennahda, like its ally in the government, CPR, refused to sign up on the national compact against violence agreed to by all other political players.

Political turmoil took an even greater dimension since the destitution of Morsi in Egypt. The Ennahda party, aware of the delays and lost credibility of the transition process, took an aggressive tone fearing any contagion in Tunisia. Some of its leaders did not hesitate to make public explicit references to use of extreme violence in case a similar movement is contemplated in Tunisia. As such, Sahbi Atig, the head of Ennahda bloc in the National Constitutional Assembly publicly called to the murder of any person who would "attempt to trample the legitimacy of the elected governments in Tunisia and in Egypt" and so did Rached Ghannouchi, the founder and historical leader of the Ennahdha party who threatened bloodbath if Tunisians were to follow their Egyptian peers.

With this in mind, one could interpret Thursday's murder as part of a plan to threaten and weaken the political opposition in Tunisia. Without accusing Ennahda or its allies, these threats and calls for violence have certainly encouraged radical Islamists, close to the radical wing of Ennahda, to continue their criminal project of eliminating secular progressive leaders who dare criticize Ennahda and its government. This is all the more tempting as the government acknowledged that the authors of this crime are also the murderers of Chokri Belaid in February 2013 and who are still on the run.

Today, we are clearly entering a third phase of the political transition with a disfigured political exchequer.

The Troika's representatives, who managed to stick to power until now despite the fact that the time legally allocated to the Constituent Assembly to rule the country and prepare the new constitution has lapsed since October 23, 2012, completely lost what is left of the little credibility they used to have. Moreover, the so-far disorganized opposition is starting to speak up all together in favor of a national salvation government.

This could be a way out of the dangerous gridlock if the intention is to include all political forces to truly participate in a rapid and transparent transition process with a clear deadline to finalize a constitution that clearly institutionalizes strong democratic institutions, human rights and freedoms beyond the whims of political leaders, and ideologies that have prevailed so far. Finalizing the constitution is of the essence as the sole objective of the first National Constitutional Assembly was to draft and adopt an acceptable and sustainable constitution and it has failed to do so drowning in internal conflicts based on small partisan strategies.

Therefore, at this stage, a clear and consensual roadmap should be set up as soon as possible with a clear focus on finalizing the constitution. Such a roadmap should acknowledge that the only legitimacy that prevails is the one that preserves the institutions of the Tunisian Republic and that helps maintain the unity within the Tunisian population and safeguards fundamental freedoms. It should include an action plan against any explicit or implicit encouragement of the use of violence including lax reactions with respect to political assassinations; any attempt to curtail fundamental freedoms, human rights and people sovereignty; and the politicization of state institutions and control by the ruling parties of the judiciary system. And, it should also comprise the formation of a non-elected national salvation government emerging out of the Tunisian people's request. Such a government would have a limited period of time to end the transition process, put in place an independent expert committee to complete the existing draft constitution, organize a referendum on the constitution immediately followed by national elections.

If the Troika, and especially Ennahda, are truly devoted to a democratic and stable Tunisia, they should welcome this new initiative of a national salvation government to lead the transition process, unite the people, confront the terrorist threat of the radicals, and restore security and political stability.