Tunisia, the birthplace of and in many ways the pace setter for the upheavals of the Arab Spring, has so far enjoyed relatively plain sailing politically (at least in comparison to Libya and, above all, Syria). But the relative calm of Tunisia’s progress towards democracy is facing a major test after the 6 February assassination of Popular Front leader Shokri Bekaid, an outspoken secular opponent of the coalition government formed by Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali’s moderate Islamist Ennahda party with two junior partners, President Moncef Marzouki’s secular Congress for the Republic (CPR) and the leftist Ettakatol party. In the immediate aftermath of the assassination Mr Jebali announced on 6 February he would dismiss the coalition government and replace it with a non-partisan cabinet of technocrats until elections could be held later in the year, a proposal immediately rejected by the vice president of his own party, who said that “the prime minister did not ask the opinion of his party.”

There ensued a period of political confusion during which the president’s CPR party announced its withdrawal from the government on 10 February only to reverse the decision the next day and Ettakattol declared in favour of Mr Jebali’s government of technocrats on 12 February, the same day that Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi rejected the idea and proposed instead “a team of politicians and technocrats,” adding that he expected that “agreement will be reached and that Jebali will remain the prime minister of a coalition government.” (CONTINUED - 401 WORDS)