x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Tunisia shows that consensus is the way forward

Ennahda's agreement to step down and start negotiations with opposition groups marks a milestone in Tunisia's political development

Tunisia has always been part of the good narrative of the Arab Spring. Despite its turbulent transition and the daunting challenges Tunisia now faces, the country still offers a relatively positive model for other states still struggling with turmoil.

After Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in January 2011, the country went through a relatively steady transition. Politicians and activists organised elections to choose a democratic assembly. That process was followed by parliamentary and presidential elections. Those contests were won by the Islamist Ennahda party.

Ennahda has since attracted criticism on many issues, including its perceived tolerance of extremist forces in Tunisia.

Such views were supported by the release of videos in which Ennahda’s leader Rachid Ghannouchi spoke to Salafi extremists, an act that was perceived to be suggesting that an Islamist takeover of Tunisian society should be undertaken in stages, rather than through radical change.

Criticism intensified as two prominent members of the opposition were assassinated. Protesters took to the streets to demand a change of government. Many members of the Constituent Assembly withdrew, undermining the important process of writing a new constitution.

But after weeks of political deadlock, the crisis appears to be subsiding. As The National reported this week, Ennahda accepted the proposal of Tunisia’s powerful labour union to step down and start negotiations with its secular opponents. The aim is to get the country out of its present political stasis and prepare for an independent transitional administration in the near future.

This is yet another milestone in the development of the Tunisian political system. It offers an example of consensus politics that Egypt, for instance, has failed to grasp.

This process will hopefully ease the way towards a new constitution and resolve other pressing domestic issues. Ennahda was wise to realise that national dialogue and discussion are the only way towards a mature and well-rounded democracy.

The Tunisian example offers valuable lessons to other countries of the Arab Spring where political development has been hindered by the absence of trust and national dialogue. Every country has its unique circumstances and has to find its own solutions, but one thing is essential for peace and stability: consensus. All parties must work together to steer their country towards prosperity.