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Tunisia: deep divisions stand in the way of stability

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Tunisia: deep divisions stand in the way of stability
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It has been two-and-a-half years since Tunisia’s revolution and tales of turmoil still fill the country’s newspapers.

The birthplace of the Arab Spring is yet to see signs of any kind of long-lasting stability.

At the heart of the capital Tunis is Bardo Square. It is an area that is almost deserted by day, but becomes an epicentre of anger by night.

Barbed wire separates supporters of the ruling, moderate Islamist, Ennahda party – and those from the secular opposition. Tensions run high and divisions run deep.

“I’m not only worried, I’m sick with worry. This is unbearable, we can’t live like this,” said Sumira, a resident.

While secularists want to see the back of the Islamist government, others see religion as crucial to securing stability in Tunisia.

“There are many people who are calling for religion to be separated from the state. I disagree. I believe the solution is religion and religious movements,” said Hassoun, also a resident.

A recent assassination in its ranks – that of MP Mohamed Brahmi – has angered the secularists. It was a high profile death that came five months after the killing of opposition leader Chokri Belaid

The deaths of eight soldiers at the end of last month – killed during an operation targeting militants on the Algerian border – has also fueled the anti-government action. Their bodies were found near Mount Chaambi, their throats reportedly slit.

In this divided country, some Tunisians fear they will face what neighbouring Algeria went through in the 1990s – a power battle involving the government, military and Islamist groups that left thousands of people dead. But one Tunisian analyst thinks that is unlikely.

“I think it is difficult to consider a scenario in Tunisia, like what happened in the nineties (in Algeria) for a single reason,” said Alayya Alani.

“The army here is not involved in political life and civil society – and this is the difference between Tunisia and Algeria. It’s the civil society. Society which wants to protect the democratic process and wants to hold elections and is confident that it will win in the polls.”