‘Bourguibist thinking’ galvanizes opposition: Essebsi hits out at Islamists

‘Government is not in a hurry to deliver on its promises’

MONASTIR (Tunisia) - The man who steered Tunisia in the aftermath of its January 2011 revolution came out of retirement Saturday to criticise the Islamist-led government and galvanise a secular opposition.
Beji Caid Essebsi, 85, was the star speaker at a conference held in Monastir -- the hometown of the father of Tunisia's independence, Habib Bourguiba -- and bringing together more than 50 political groups.
Essebsi was interim prime minister for 10 months following the January 14, 2011 ouster of long-standing president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in a popular uprising that ignited a wave of pro-democracy protests across the region.
He handed over power late last year to a coalition led by the Islamist Ennahda movement following elections for a constituent assembly tasked with producing a new constitution.
"We were agreed during the handover of power that the drafting of the constitution and organising of the next polls should be completed within a year," the veteran liberal politician said.
"But we can now observe that, four months after ascending to power, the current government is not in a hurry to deliver on its promises," Essebsi added.
Thousands of people attended the conference in Monastir, which also drew civil society groups heeding Essebsi's call to shape a political alternative to the Islamist-led government.
Ennahda wants Islam to become the main source of legislation in the future constitution, and secular parties have been closing ranks to defend a secular and liberal Tunisia.
The country's myriad opposition parties, who spent months licking their wounds after Ennahda's electoral triumph, have recently been merging and forming alliances to oppose the governing coalition.
A leftist and a centrist bloc are emerging, while a third current that includes former members of Ben Ali's ruling party is also uniting behind the legacy of Habib Bourguiba and under Essebsi's leadership.
Essebsi was a close aide of Tunisia's first post-independence president and was still a senior official during the first years of Ben Ali's rule.