6 January 2014

Tunisia: Regime Remnants, Women and the Clown - Tunisia's Revolution Three Years On

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A new window for contestation opened along with a return to the legitimacy of the street and people (shar'yya sha'biyyah). Demonstrations took place, including massive ones in August 2013.

As crisis threatened the country, key civil society organisations - including the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), Tunisia's most powerful trade union - led the way in establishing a sense of consensual legitimacy (shar'iyya tawafuqiyyah) in the spirit of which political parties agreed a new power-sharing arrangement and road map.

The outcome of this has sped up the constitutional process and most recently imposed an 'independent' prime minister to replace the elected one.

Remnants, justice and the clown

Looking now to the fate of old regime figures, the azlam (stooges) and fulool (remnants) have had a very revealing journey since 2011.

The initial revolutionary drive led to the banning of the former ruling party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), while some key figures were arrested and some were barred from running in elections. However, this experienced cadre soon turned from being seen as a Trojan Horse to potential allies.

Some of them formed their own parties, others joined the newly-established Nidaa Tunis, while others were courted and hired by the ruling al-Nahda. Three years on, former regime loyalists have several small parties of their own, while several ministers have been set free. They are azlam no more.

The reason for this lies in the interface between the conceptions and practices of transitional justice ('adala intiqaliyya) and the Law to Safeguard the Revolution (qanun tahsin al-thawrah). After the uprising, Tunisia became unique in assigning an entire ministry for transitional justice and human rights, run by the Islamist lawyer Samir Dilou.

At the same time, legislation was proposed that would ban those who served under Ben Ali, and even under former president Habib Bourguiba, from elected office.

This was seen by many as revenge justice ('adala intiqamiyyah) or selective justice ('adala intiqa'iyya), and the prime minister at the time in 2011, Beji Qaid el-Sebsi, saw the proposed law as a targeted move against him.

The law went through but was abandoned recently on 15 December 2013, when the long-awaited Transitional Justice Law was finally passed.

Other actions which come under transitional justice include some reparation - though this has largely been selective and mostly benefited members of al-Nahda who were imprisoned under Ben Ali - and a general amnesty law for all political prisoners.

The latter, which led to the release of more than 500 remaining prisoners, seems to have been rushed and has been accused of contributing directly to the rise in militancy in recent years.

Indeed, several people who were arrested or are currently wanted for acts of violence, including the killing of the leftist leaders Chokri Belaid on 6 February, 2013, and Mohamed Brahmi on 25 July, 2013, were released from jail in that amnesty. These two dramatic killings marked a turning point in Tunisian political violence, leading to a rising climate of fear, and caused two governments to fall or, more precisely, to change.

Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali left his position in February to be replaced by Minister of the Interior Ali Laarayedh, while the latter was driven from office in December to make way for an 'independent' prime minister.

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