Tunisians Renew Protests Against Islamist Government
Tunisians launched a week of protests Saturday demanding the resignation of the Islamist-led government. The birthplace of the Arab Spring has been embroiled in turmoil ever since opposition politician Mohamed Brahmi was assassinated last month, allegedly by Salafist gunmen.
"We tried you, you failed, now leave," protesters chanted.
Opposition leaders say the Ennadha Party, which won 41 percent of the seats in Tunisia's Constituent Assembly, is incompetent and has done little to provide security. A third of the Constituent Assembly has withdrawn and its speaker has suspended the legislature's work since Brahmi's assassination.
Tunisia also faces severe economic difficulties similar to those in Egypt that led to mass protests prior to the toppling of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. Standard & Poor's recently downgraded Tunisia's credit rating to near junk, citing economic and security problems.
Jihadists connected with Al-Qaida's North African franchise have targeted Tunisian soldiers in the Jebel Chaambi mountains of southwestern Tunisia. The unrest became so bad that Tunisian Gen. Rachid Ammar warned just before resigning as head of Tunisia's army in June that "Tunisia could become like Somalia."
"Other countries have the economic resources to fight terrorism but we have nothing," Ammar said in an Associated Press report. "I see in Tunisia today signs that make me afraid and keep me from sleeping."
The ruling Ennadha party condemned violence by the al-Qaida linked jihadists, but Tunisian secularists strain to see a difference between Ennadha and the jihadists. "Ennadha and the Salafists are on and the same," said Zied Miled, a leading opposition figure who once was part of Ennadha's coalition government.
The fall of Egyptian President Mohamed has emboldened Tunisia's opposition, which is calling for an independent group to run the country before new elections can be held.
"Since Ennadha came to power we have been suffering," protester Nejet Brissi told the BBC, echoing the concerns of Egyptian protesters who took to the streets against Morsi in June. "We have been crushed by the rising cost of living. There is no security anymore. We are living in fear of terrorists."
Ennadha shows no signs of giving in.
"The coalition government will not resign and will continue its duties until national dialog reaches a consensus agreement that guarantees the completion of the democratic transition and the organization of free and fair elections," party leader Rachid Ghannouchi said last week.