Emergent Public Discourse and the Constitutional Debate in Tunisia: A Critical Narrative Analysis

Nathaniel Greenberg


The appointment of the Minister of Industry, the so-called “technocrat” Mehdi Jomaa, to form a caretaker government in Tunisia on the eve of the revolution’s third anniversary, threw into stark relief the country’s complex struggle for democracy following the January 14 revolution. The announcement came in the wake of the Islamist party Ennahdha’s sudden renunciation of the Prime Minister’s office in September, ostensibly a sign of cooperation in the face of mounting criticism surrounding the government’s failure to investigate the assassinations of two political opposition figures. A number of Western media outlets, including the New York Times, quickly absorbed the narrative advanced by Ennahdha’s leader and spiritual guide Rachid al-Ghannouchi referring to the appointment of Jomaa as a “yielding of power.” This narrative of concession, however, elides the fact that neither of the Parliament’s largest secular opposition parties supported the vote to appoint Jomaa, or, for that matter, that the vote failed to achieve a majority. Faced with mounting criticism, Ennahdha’s spokesman denied reports in Le Monde from the previous day that the appointment had been directed by lobbying efforts from the U.S. Department of State and the E.U.[1] In other words, Ennahdha leaders defended the appointment as a victory as much as they sold it as a concession. The former lends itself to the long-standing critique on the part of secular pundits within Tunisia that Ennahdha has been playing a long game and is determined to alter the secular nature of the State. The latter suggests that the Islamist party is representative of a democratic majority and envisions a path of moderate conservative governance along the lines of the AKP in Turkey.