Maghreb Report: Inter-party Tensions Continue in Tunisia; General Gaid Salah Seeks to Strengthen Hand for Upcoming Presidential Election; Libya Rocked by General Haftar Accusations against Algeria – Jean R. AbiNader

Jean R. AbiNader
November 7, 2018

Jean R. AbiNader, Moroccan American Center

For all its efforts to build a responsive and effective government Tunisia now faces its toughest challenges since the détente between the moderate Islamist Ennahda party and the secular Nidaa Tounes led to the government’s formation. What began as a disagreement between President Essebsi and Prime Minister Chaded over the leadership of the Nidaa Tounes party by the president’s son has now resulted in defections from the party and a new balance of power in the Parliament.

As a post on the Carnegie Endowment site Sada Journal explained, “Ultimately, this ‘government crisis’ is limited and does not jeopardize the foundations of Tunisia’s young democracy. The course of events instead suggests that the principal source of division is whether to continue the policy of political consensus, which is tied to the fate of Youssef Chahed.” The government is expected to continue with its pursuit of policies that benefit all Tunisians, and the Prime Minister just restructured his cabinet in order to deal with the pressing problems of economic growth and political stability.

With the split up of Nidaa Tounes and the changing political dynamics, all parties have their eyes fixed on the 2019 parliamentary and presidential elections. The splitting up of the governing coalition means that the competing parties must establish their identities to attract voters, “While at the same time avoiding exacerbating the political conflict too much. Freeing themselves from the necessity of political compromise could enhance their capacity for action.”

Whether or not this will breathe new life into the country’s political scene is debatable. What people say they want is an end to political bickering and rapid economic growth. Others claim that “Consensus only seems to be effective if it includes freely mediated debates on competing visions and is not simply dictated from above. Consequently, transforming the basic program of recent years—the achievement of national unanimity through consensus—into party competition would help to renew the process of debate which, after all, is inherent to politics.” That’s one perspective, which may be headed for a rocky start if the basic needs of the people are not addressed through consensus or another form of democratic government.

In Algeria, the presidential succession roulette has ratcheted up General Gaid Salah’s power plays. While most observers follow the musical chairs inherent in trying to predict the next president should Bouteflika not be able to compete in next year’s election for a sixth term, General Gaid Salah is strengthening his power base to become the next great power broker in the country. He has eliminated rivals allied to his competitors in the armed forces and assumed the role of Defense Minister, traveling around the country, and heightened his public persona.

Ironically, while his moves are significant to analysts and opponents, an article in Fikra Forumpoints out, “According to many observers, Algerians are apathetic about elections in general, since they always expect the army will select the winner. Indeed, in a survey conducted by the Arab Barometer last year, 83 percent of Algerians said they are either not interested or not at all interested in politics, compared with only 4 percent who say they are very interested.”

At the same time, close to 75% of Algerians say that they “Continue to trust the armed forces significantly more than any other political institution, which helps explain why the Algerian public is particularly interested in shifts within the Algerian army.” If Bouteflika were not able to stand in next year’s election, it is difficult to see a consensus emerging around a successor, which is what makes General Salah’s moves worth watching. More from the article, “General Salah’s purge may have laid the conditions for a peaceful transition, since the army is the backbone of the regime. Meanwhile, history shows the army has always successfully led transitions in Algeria, which explains why it is considered the most trusted institution in the country. Yet the outcome of this trial of force will result in a new balance of competing groups that will impact Algeria’s future.”

Not to be out-generaled by the Algerians, General Khalifa Haftar is prodding them to recognize him as the strongman of Libya. His latest round of accusations that Algeria is meddling in Tunisia affairs seems more likely a ploy to gain recognition of his status in Libya than a serious challenge. However, the Algerians refuse to play his game, according to a story in Fikra Forum, and are committed to dealing with the official government in Tripoli.

“In principle, Algeria discusses matters of security cooperation, coordination, and borders solely with the official, internationally recognized representatives of the Libyan people. Indeed, Haftar does not meet either requirement, and arguably seeks to thwart Algeria’s role and influence its vision of a political solution in Libya.” Algeria is aligned with many countries in calling for a peaceful resolution of Libya’s internal warring, “And a comprehensive reconciliation between all warring parties,” which goes against the position of Haftar and his supporters (Egypt, UAE, and France) of “Excluding Islamists and the government of Tripoli from national dialogue and reconciliation efforts.”

Algeria has made it clear that is supports a political solution involving all parties rather than seeking to impose a military settlement. It has backed up its position with humanitarian aid in coordination with tribal and municipal leaders in areas adjoining Algeria, which has “Reinforced cooperation and understanding on matters of border security, terrorist infiltration, and arms smuggling,” with the recognized government in Tripoli.

With the collapse of the French-backed attempt to have elections in December, Libya needs all the friends it can manage to reconstruct a peace process that is inclusive and sustainable.

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