Victimization without leadership – a new paradigm

It’s been a busy two weeks in Tunisian politics. In foreign policy, Tunisia hosted the Friends of Syria summit; on the domestic front, crippling strikes set off a wave of recriminations between labor and the government, the government and journalists continued their standoff, and the Constituent Assembly began debate over the role of religion in the new constitution.

A common theme throughout these debates has been the self victimization by political parties .

Take for example the labor unrest. To hear the government say it, recent strikes by the country’s largest trade union are anarchists trying to destabilize the country (according to the foreign minister) or former regime officials trying to destabilize the country (according to the prime minister. The anthem is that the UGTT (the main union) is trying to insert itself into politics – an area it doesn’t belong. The result, according to Ennahdha supporters, is that the country is destabilized and Ennahdha can do nothing to get the economy back on track – the country is being held hostage by these corrupt, rapacious syndicates. It could not be based, as the UGTT says, on the poverty level salaries (less than 2 dollars a day) being offered for labor.

Of course, from Ennahdha’s perspective, the sabotage against their agenda is largely encouraged if not outright supported by the anti-Ennahdha press. According to the Tunisian Interior Minister, the media are largely responsible for the decline in tourism and foreign direct investment. Rached Ghannouchi, Ennahdha’s president, called on the media to be more objective. To the chagrin of Tunisian journalists, Ghannouchi seems to want the media to be less critical of the government’s work. Quite a sign only one year after the end of a dictatorial regime.

Of course, Ennahdha’s not the only group claiming to be a victim. To hear it from left-wing activists, Ennahdha’s victory (which was illegimitimate) is being supported by the colonial powers, mostly the U.S. and Qatar, who very well may have been behind the so called reovlution to begin with. To many Tunisians, the uprising was merely a short period of action in between being played for pawns by the world’s powers. In other words, they got played – and the country is paying the price.

On both sides, it’s an unfortunate discourse. Victimization, a brother of conspiracy theories, absolves one of responsibilities and makes one an object of one’s circumstances, rather than a subject.

There are signs of hope. Tunisian foreign policy, as Alex Warren points out in a recent article in Foreign Policy, has been increasingly¬†assertive. While the Friends of Syria conference and President Moncef Marzouki’s efforts to revive the Arab Maghreb Union have been derided by many in Tunisia, they do show signs of leadership and a willingness to take risks. So far, however, the winning hand seems to go to the victims.


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