Extradition of Gaddafi deputy plunges Tunisia into political crisis

Time.com reports: With political upheaval in Egypt and Libya and calamitous violence in Syria, the one stable point of the Arab Spring seemed to be Tunisia, where the wave of revolutions began 19 months ago. Now even that looks in doubt. Before dawn last Sunday, Tunisian officials dragged the country’s highest-value detainee — Muammar Gaddafi’s last Prime Minister, Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi — from his prison bed, then handed him to Libyan officials, who flew him to a Libyan jail an hour away. Why the cloak-and-dagger extradition? The operation occurred under the nose of Tunisia’s own President, who at the time was sound asleep in his sprawling seaside palace, just a few kilometers away.

The political furor in Tunisia has since laid bare deep rifts between the country’s secular liberals and Islamists, two factions wrestling for the country’s future in wake of the dictatorship’s collapse in January 2011. In some ways, the conflict mirrors the political struggles playing out in Libya and Egypt too, as all three countries try to rebuild after decades of one-man rule. In Tunisia, a three-way coalition has ruled the country since the first democratic elections last October, with the popular Islamic party Ennahda — long outlawed under the dictatorship — controlling the government under a Prime Minister, and the two major secular parties in control each of the presidency and the constitution-writing assembly.

But the clamor over al-Mahmoudi’s fate now threatens to torpedo the arrangement, placing the Islamists in firm control over the most secular country in North Africa.

For months, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki fiercely opposed Libyan requests to send al-Mahmoudi back. As the argument dragged on, it became a litmus test not only for what kind of justice system the new Tunisia might have, but also for what kind of President there will be once the new constitution is approved some time next year: one with big powers, like the American President, or a figurehead — as some suspect the newly elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy might ultimately be. [Continue reading…]

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