TUNIS – Tunisia’s post-revolution political alliance faced its deepest crisis yet yesterday after the Islamist prime minister ignored the president’s opposition to the extradition of a former top Libyan official.
President Moncef Marzouki was furious that Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali ordered the transfer to Libya of Muammar Gaddafi’s last prime minister, Baghdadi al-Mahmudi, without his consent.
Marzouki has always opposed the extradition, arguing Libya’s new regime offered insufficient guarantees of a fair trial, and was in southern Tunisia Sunday for an official ceremony when Jebali ordered the move.
Marzouki, a veteran human rights activist, did not sign the extradition order and found out about Mahmudi’s transfer through the media, his adviser said.
The presidency “considers this decision is illegal, all the more so because it has been done unilaterally and without consulting the president of the republic,” a statement from Marzouki’s office said.
“The extradition decision, signed by the head of the Tunisian government, constitutes a clear violation of our country’s international commitments and those towards the UN,” the statement added.
The virulence of the humiliated Marzouki’s statement revealed the uneasy nature of his alliance with Jebali’s Ennahda (Renaissance) party, which won Tunisia’s post-uprising polls in October 2011.
The Islamist movement won the most votes in the election for the constituent assembly but had to form an alliance with other leading parties.
A power-sharing deal handed the prime minister’s job to Ennahda, the presidency to Marzouki’s Congress for the Republic (CPR) and the post of parliament speaker to Mustapha Ben Jaafar, who heads the leftist Ettakatol.
Marzouki has tried to retain control of Tunisia’s foreign policy in recent months but the row over Mahmudi’s extradition illustrated how little sway he really holds.
“Mr. Mahmudi’s extradition is a matter pertaining to Tunisia’s foreign policy and this field is part of the presidency’s prerogatives,” Marzouki’s statement said.
But Tunisia’s three-way power deal is not an even split and Jebali, Tunisia’s real boss, had warned earlier this month that Mahmudi’s fate was for the judiciary to decide and did not require presidential approval.
Marzouki’s camp was in combative mood Sunday and threatened to take the matter to the constitutent assembly, the interim body tasked with preparing fresh polls and drafting a new constitution.
But the political leaderships of Tunisia’s governing troika agreed to meet Monday in a bid to defuse the row.
“There was disagreement but it should not be blown out of proportion,” Abdelwahab Maattar, an MP fropm Marzouki’s party, told AFP.
“Is it really in our interest now, considering the situation the country is in, to start a new crisis? The president is legitimately furious but we need to take it on the chin and preserve the troika.”
“Let’s not escalate the situation,” Ennahda spokesman Nejib Gharbi. “I don’t think the troika’s future is at risk. It’s a strategic alliance.”
Recent religious tensions in Tunisia have also rattled the alliance, with Ennahda often accused of not taking a tough enough line against Salafist groups pushing for a strict implementation of sharia.
Political analyst Ahmed Manai predicted that the affront to Marzouki would leave scars but also argued that the alliance would survive the incident.
“The damage here is mainly to Mocef Marzouki himself and his standing. He knows he owes Ennahda everything, he knows that his political future depends on them and he cannot afford to confront them,” he said.