Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History and the director of the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Michigan. His latest book, "Engaging the Muslim World," is just out in a revised paperback edition from Palgrave Macmillan.
The resignation of Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali in Tunisia has created a political crisis that the elected government will have to deal with. Jebali is a politician of the Muslim religious right, from the Ennahda Party, and had led an Ennahda-dominated cabinet in coalition with two smaller secular parties, Moncef Marzouki’s social democratic Congress for the Republic and another small partner.
The Jebali government was shaken by the assassination of secular opposition figure Chokry Belaid, a severe critic of the religious right. Many secular Tunisians openly accused Ennahda of the act (though without proof), withdrawing the public confidence necessary for Jebali to rule from that party. He therefore sought a shake-up of his cabinet, installing non-party technocrats to produce a government of national unity. The Ennahda Party parliamentarians, however, rejected that step. They have the largest bloc of members of parliament, around 40%, but are not a majority.
When Jebali found his proposal blocked, he stepped down Tuesday night. In essence, he treated his party’s rejection of his plan as a vote of no confidence. In parliamentary systems, prime ministers have to step down all the time when they lose a vote of no confidence. I see Jebali’s move as positive. He or someone else will have to try to form a government, being nominated by elected president Marzouki for the task.
Actually Jebali is not the first post-revolution prime minister to step down, and while the political crisis is regrettable (and especially the assassination that caused it), the political process is not. Tunisia was ruled by strongmen for most of its post-independence history, but now has leaders who need the support of parliament and of the people. As we see in Belgium or Italy, getting such support is not always straightforward. But that’s politics, and politics of a parliamentary sort are good, and much better than corrupt, oppressive, inflexible strong men.