On the other hand, Essebsi appeared weak and unconvincing in his television interview, when he announced that he was terminating his relationship with the Islamists and that he had urged the prime minister, whom he himself recommended for the post, to go to parliament to seek a vote of confidence. Chahed is almost guaranteed to win such a vote, however, owing to a large number of representatives, including from Ennahda and others, who have broken away from Nidaa Tounes and formed a new parliamentary bloc. Chahed can also count on substantial external support from private donors who applaud the policies of privatisation which he has adopted.
The final year
It is the last year of Essebsiʹs presidency and it seems he will use it to put his house in order and to stop the resignations which are bleeding his party. It is likely that he will take over the task which his son failed to accomplish. He may also be obliged to expedite the inheritance law in order to increase pressure on Ennahda and to goad the new parliamentary bloc that supports Chahed into setting out its "ideological" stance vis a vis Ennahda.
After all, it will be difficult for this fragmented bloc to agree on anything which is not in accord with the Islamists, except if itʹs needed to keep the prime minister in office. In matters apart from this, the differences between them are stark. Many of these representatives quit the presidentʹs party because of its agreement with the Islamists. Ennahda may well realise that it canʹt rely on this arrangement to compensate for such a strong and dependable ally as President Essebsi.
As for Essebsi, he will inevitably drive a wedge between the two parties by playing to their respective strengths and weaknesses, preventing any rapprochement between his former cohorts who quit his party and the Islamists. He wonʹt find a better way of doing this than by proposing the inheritance law and he may well intensify co-ordination with the powerful trade union body (the Tunisian General Labour Union), which in turn is calling for the departure of Youssef Chahed and threatening a general strike next month.
In the midst of Essebsiʹs manoeuvres to stay active on the Tunisian stage, despite his limited powers under the new constitution, the Islamists are eager to explain the Presidentʹs statements differently. In an official statement, Ennahda expressed their commitment to the consensus approach and they renewed their praise for President Essebsi and for his role in the successful transition to democracy.
At the same time, they reiterated their difference of views on a number of issues facing the country, foremost of which is the stability of the government. In this regard, Ennahda is unlikely to deny the solid relationship it enjoys with the President of the Republic. The comments of Ennahdaʹs leaders in the media have all been in this direction, despite the fact that Essebsi has made plain that the period of consensus politics in Tunisia is over at Ennahdaʹs request and not the other way round.
Whatever the case, the Islamists of Ennahda recognise that co-existence with the secularists is no longer an option that is determined by the balance of power between the parties. The role of the party which won the 2014 elections is not what it was. This reinforces the view that the delicate consensus was merely a "tactical alliance" and it has served its purpose.
As for the division of power between the secularists and the Islamists, it is clear that it will continue, whether as a result of internal or external pressures that either embrace the Tunisian experience or seek to offer it as a success story in a region plagued by conflicts and wars.
© Qantara.de 2018
Translated from the Arabic by Chris Somes-Charlton