Ministers from the Tunisian president’s secularist party have pulled out of the Cabinet, the latest step in an growing political crisis accompanied by street violence that threatens to upend the country’s democratic transition.
“The ministers of the Congress have resigned because the party’s demands that the justice and foreign ministers be changed haven’t been met,” Samir Ben Omar, a member of the Congress for the Republic Party’s executive committee, said by phone on Sunday.
The resignations are another blow to the country’s already shaky coalition government following the assassination of a leading opposition figure on Wednesday last week and the threat two days ago by Tunisian Prime Minister Hamdi Jebali to resign if he is not allowed to form a new technocratic government.
Analysts said the resignation may in fact be a way to pre-empt the prime minister’s actions, since a technocratic government, which Islamist Jebali has said is needed to restore confidence in the political system, would leave the Congress for the Republic Party out of government in any case.
“The resignations are a pre-emptive strike in anticipation of Jebali dropping them from the Cabinet,” Salem Labyad, a professor at the University of Tunis, said by phone. “The Congress’s decision will have no effect or political ramifications as Jebali is insisting on forming a technocrat government.”
The assassination of Chokri Belaid, the prominent leader of the leftist Democratic Patriots party, set off waves of protests that in some areas has disintegrated into pillaging and violence. Over the weekend, 80 youths armed with stones and clubs attacked a police station and other security posts in the city of Zaghouan, west of Tunis, according to The Associated Press.
The events marked the most serious crisis in Tunisia since protests more than two years ago began the so-called Arab Spring uprisings across the region. Belaid’s wife has blamed her husband’s killing on Islamist an-Nahda, the prime minister’s party. Jebali and the secular Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki condemned the assassination, urging Tunisians not to be dragged into violence.
Jebali’s plan to form a technocratic government was disavowed by other leaders of an-Nahda. The prime minister said in an interview with al-Jazeera television on Saturday that he would step down if his attempt to form a technocratic government this week fails.
Prior to the killing, Tunisia’s political transformation, which began in December 2010, had been touted as a model for a coalition between secular and Islamist political forces.