Riots hint at Tunisian divide: Moderate Islamist ruling party vs. main labor union
RABAT, Morocco — Five days of riots last week in a town in Tunisia's impoverished interior wounded hundreds of people and deepened the rift between the two most powerful forces in this North African country: the moderate Islamist ruling party and the main labor union.
With the two at loggerheads, the threat of a nationwide general strike next week could plunge the economically struggling country back into chaos, endangering its government and its transition to democracy nearly two years after Tunisians ousted a dictator and kicked off the Arab Spring revolutions.
Tunisians' dissatisfaction with their post-revolution government has yet to reach the dramatic levels in Egypt, where hundreds of thousands are protesting President Mohammed Morsi's recent decision to vastly expand his powers.
But the latest tensions in Tunisia are reminiscent of the demonstrations that began there in December 2010, when a poor young fruit seller in the interior town of Sidi Bouzid set himself on fire. Those protests led, the following month, to the end of the 23-year-old dictatorship of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Today's economic conditions and political struggles in Tunisia suggest a crisis that "is going to get worse before it gets better," said William Lawrence, the North Africa analyst for the International Crisis Group.
In many ways, the onus is on the ruling Islamist Ennahda party to curb the disappointments of the citizens who elected it. Fourteen months after their first free multi-party election, Tunisians still suffer from the same high unemployment and police arrogance that angered them pre-revolution.
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