The strange constitutional crisis in Tunisia – Marzouki’s role in question

I’m on assignment this week, without time to post extensively, but I did want to draw attention to what appears to be a nascent constitutional crisis in Tunisia. The issue stems from the extradition last week of former Libyan prime minister Baghdadi Mahmoudi. While other news sources offer greater coverage of the crisis itself, one interesting aspect is the role of Moncef Marzouki, the Tunisian president. Since Marzouki took office he has been beset by chatter among the political classes that he is not up to being the president, and that he sacrificed his party for his own political gain.

The fact that he was excluded from the decision to extradite Mahmoudi only confirmed some of these prejudices against the president. Even to his supporters, the row has shown that he does not exercise the power of a chief executive who is supposed to be in charge of foreign policy. Marzouki has decided to fight this battle in the court of public opinion and he appears to have the support of a number of opposition politicians – who are nominally in opposition to his own party. Over 70 members of the constituent assembly voted in favor of no-confidence for the prime minister, Hamadi Jebali, who made the decision to extradite Mahmoudi. It is unclear what a vote of this nature would entail, as there is no functional constitution in place that would govern new elections. It is more likely that the opposition vote is simply a show of strength against the government for what they consider to be an illegal and unilateral decision.

One final note, Tunisia Live reports that Marzouki has even threatened to resign over the issue. While this is unlikely, the threat shows the very open fissures that have been created within the ruling coalition.

Ben Ali’s chauffeur extradited and jailed, boss remains free

The French daily Le Parisien reports (paywall) this morning that Ben Ali’s chauffeur, who had fled Tunisia after the revolution, was denied his request for assylum and has been extradited back to Tunisia. He is currently incarcerated in Monastir.

Meanwhile, Ben Ali’s lawyer went on Al Arabiya to defend his client’s innocence.

Former Tunisian President Zein ElAbedine Ben Ali’s lawyer Akram Azouri refuted allegations about his client’s escape from Tunisia following the protests, denied that he issued orders to shoot protestors, and contested reports about his wealth.

“Ben Ali left Tunisia on January 14, 2011 in what he planned would be a short trip as he expected to return within a few hours,” Azouri told Al Arabiya’s Point of Order Friday.

Saudi Arabia has refused Tunisian requests for the former dictator’s extradition. Le Monde Diplomatique attacks the Gulf monarchy and the subservience of other countries to its will.

The Tunisian prime minister Hamadi Jebali has provided another example of the preferential treatment automatically accorded to the Saudi monarchy. Jebali, who belongs to a movement savagely repressed by former president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, praised his Saudi hosts on one of his first official visits abroad. Yet Riyadh, which supported the Ben Ali clan to the bitter end, refuses to extradite them and provides a safe haven for their finances. Gulf money also helps encourage the Salafists’ provocative behaviour in Tunisia, funding TV channels that spread their medieval interpretation of Islam.