At this critical moment in our history, Tunisia continues its struggle to secure its revolution. Ranged against it are the repeated attempts to abort not only its dreams of freedom and dignity but the dream of the whole of the Arab spring. In other Arab countries, the march towards freedom has already been violently repressed or derailed. Although the last three months have brought successive political crises in Tunisia, these have been overcome through consensus-building, making the Tunisian model the repository of hope for supporters of democracy in the region and beyond.
Last week was the second anniversary of Tunisia’s first free and fair elections on 23 October 2011. The elections created our national constituent assembly, a body elected by and for the Tunisian people to draft a constitution that would establish a democratic state based on the rule of law. A national dialogue has now begun, which is taking place amid determined attempts to derail the political process. A recent series of terrorist attacks on security personnel, and the tragic assassinations of politician Chokri Belaid and assembly member Mohammed Brahmi, have left the democratic transition fragile. A clear pattern is emerging of political violence just as important steps are being taken forward.
Brahmi’s assassination came when the national constituent assembly was about to start discussing and voting on the final complete draft of the constitution. Similarly, last week’s spate of terrorist attacks came just before the launch of the national dialogue involving all political parties and trade unions. The dialogue aims to agree a timetable for the adoption of the constitution, electoral law and the formation of a new government of technocrats for the remaining months before the elections.
Democracy is not in everyone’s interests – least of all those who enjoyed the fruits of dictatorship and corruption. Democratic transitions have always seen a push and pull between those who seek to break down dictatorial systems and those who would lose out in a new era of democracy. It is thus not surprising that some want to use violence to plunge the country into political deadlock.
The role of the current elected government is to guarantee the security of our citizens by establishing a process for the peaceful alternation of political power and a government based on separation of powers, capable of being held to account. Security and stability cannot co-exist with repression.
Elections give a democratic mandate but that mandate must be exercised in an inclusive manner. For this reason Ennahda refused to monopolise power when we won elections and shared key ministries with other parties and independents, who make up almost half the current government. Ennahda has made repeated compromises on our preferences for the parliamentary system, the electoral system and the draft constitution. We are conscious that the practices we adopt now, of consensus-building and power-sharing between parties and between Islamists and secularists, provide a model for the future of democratic governance in the whole Arab world.
This forging of new democratic traditions is taking place in a very challenging regional context: instability and the flow of weapons in neighbouring countries all pose a new threat to Tunisia’s security. Those seeking to derail democracy in Tunisia are capitalising on this regional upheaval. Their hope is that violence and chaos will either dissuade the Tunisian people from choosing democracy or push the government into a brutal confrontation. The Tunisian government is responding within a framework based on rights and rule of law, thus affirming democracy rather than repression and brutality, as used by the previous regime.
Tunisians are deeply conscious that they stand at a critical juncture – a moment that determines whether the sacrifices and hardships they suffered for the sake of freedom will bear fruit. Our role now is to protect Tunisia’s revolution and build the right political and economic environment for the flowering of the democratic seeds that were sown in 2011. Failure would undermine faith in change through ballots not bullets. Whatever the outcome, the democratic tremors triggered by 14 January 2011 cannot be contained.
Rachid Ghannouchi is leader of the Ennahda party in Tunisia.