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As Tunisia's Ennahda falters, supporters wonder if it can handle the heat

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“What are you doing here?” a policeman asked. Mtiri replied that she was a student.

“You’re cultured, then,” said the policeman. Then he indicated her head scarf. “Why do you wear that thing?”

“Because I believe in it,” Mtiri said.

Two years later, Ben Ali was toppled by a wave of protests. Overnight, political parties – some already existing, many new – began readying to compete in Tunisia’s first free elections.

Mtiri had already heard of Ennahda. After Ben Ali’s departure, the party’s pledge to work with secularists while promoting an Arab-Muslim identity won her support.

“I will no longer accept being rejected because I wear a head scarf in my own country, or being told my ideas are backward,” she says.

An experiment in coexistence

In 2011, Mtiri campaigned door-to-door for Ennahda in Sidi Hassine with other young activists. Among them were Mohamed Salah Chebbi, then studying audiovisual technology, and Abdelhamid Hamadi, who headed the youth section of Ennahda's local office.

Ennahda won the October 2011 elections and formed a coalition government with two secularist parties that has been seen as an experiment in powersharing.

“The message is that two societal projects can coexist,” says Mr. Chebbi, a jovial young man with curly chestnut hair. “If that experiment succeeds, the Tunisian revolution will succeed.”

But today, many in Tunisia now question that government’s ability to run the country. Concerns have shifted lately from ideology to sheer competence.

Opposition parties accuse the government of failing to discipline violent groups, from hard-line Salafi Muslims to rowdy progovernment demonstrators called the Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution.

Ordinary Tunisians complain of a malaise that has deepened since Ben Ali’s removal. Uncertainty has frightened investors and tourists. Unemployment shot to 19 percent in 2011 and remains at around 17 percent – with youth and rural regions hit even harder.

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