Abdelfattah Mourou in interview: Ghannouchi should step down

“We could not abolish personalised power once and for all, so we strove to advance the system, but we fell into the trap of endowing the same authority with two heads and this is a mistake, ” said the former parliament speaker.

Monday 22/02/2021
Tunisia’s interim parliament speaker Abdelfattah Mourou (L) greets Tunisian Islamist-inspired Ennahda party leader Rached Ghannouchi, on November 13, 2019. (AFP)
Tunisia’s interim parliament speaker Abdelfattah Mourou (L) greets Tunisian Islamist-inspired Ennahda party leader Rached Ghannouchi, on November 13, 2019. (AFP)

TUNIS - As feuding continues between the poles of power on Tunisia’s political stage, plenty of complications have emerged on the scene.

It seems that the Islamist movement, led by Tunisian Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, has become  vulnerable to criticism even by political actors who once belonged to Ennahda.

Among these is former leading Ennahda figure and former Deputy Parliament Speaker Abdelfattah Morou, who said in an interview with The Arab Weekly that the parliament speaker should leave politics, especially that Islamists have failed to offer an alternative to the state boosting efforts of the last decade.

Mourou, former deputy parliament speaker and a former leading figure of the Islamist Ennahda movement, told The Arab Weekly that Ghannouchi should retire from politics, stressing that the failed political system has generated nothing but crises.

Mourou, who has already retired from politics, acknowledged the failure of the political system established by the 2014 constitution. He said the “error” is that it established a two-headed executive authority.

The historic Islamist figure emphasised that the call by the ruling parties  — in reference to Ennahdha movement — for street demonstrations “is a mistake because the parties in power should focus on accomplishments not on protests.” Mourou was commenting on the calls for demonstrations amid a constitutional and political impasse faced by Tunisia as a result of a recent ministerial reshuffle.

He did not hesitate to explicitly admit the mistakes committed by the Islamists  decades ago (under the banner of the Islamic Trend Movement), in declaring the late Tunisian leader Habib Bourguiba an apostate during the struggle for power that pitted them against each other at the time.

Street protests are the wrong choice

Amid a general atmosphere that suggests that the country is on the brink of disaster after the worsening of the political crisis, there have been growing fears that Tunisia would slide into violence, especially after a number of parties,  especially the Ennahda Movement, the Free Destourian Party and Al-Chaab Movement, stepped up their calls for street demonstrations, following the crisis sparked by the cabinet reshuffle introduced by Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi.

Mourou told The Arab Weekly, “This crisis was expected, especially in new democratic regimes striving to transit from a dictatorial to a new institutional system that would lead to democratic stability. These are the problems of transition.” He believes that “the system enshrined by in the 2014 constitution was lauded by political parties as (a) world-class gem as part of a marketing pitch. We wanted to steer away from dictatorship (presidential dictatorship), by reducing the president’s influence and powers.”

Mourou, who retired from politics and left Ennahda in 2019, dares admit failure, saying, “We could not abolish personalised power once and for all, so we strove to advance the system, but we fell into the trap of endowing the same authority with two heads and this is a mistake. As a consequence, each part of the authority claims power to itself. I am against this system. I said that earlier’.”

After being defeated in the last presidential elections, 72-year-old Mourou chose to turn away from politics. He returned to his profession as a lawyer after strongly endorsing consensus-based politics to prevent the country from sliding into violence between Islamists and secularists that occurred before and after the 2014 elections.

Regarding the turmoil on Tunisia’s political scene today, Mourou believes that the head of state has no right to use his veto against choosing or forming a government. “The constitution does not grant the president the right to object to establishing or selecting a government but gives him some exceptions, such as in the case of some laws passed by parliament,” he said. “After the parliamentary vote of confidence on the government, his role is restricted. He assumes his constitutional role, which is restricted. He has to sign on, but cannot do anything that is binding.”

The recent crisis has led to calls for President Kais Said to be impeached. MPs from the Qalb Tounes party, one of the components of Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi’s parliamentary support belt, seemed to be more enthusiastic about these calls than others from any party, along with some leading Ennahda figures.

Ennahda presidential candidate Abdelfattah Mourou speaks during a press conference in Tunis, on September 17, 2019. (AFP)
Ennahda presidential candidate Abdelfattah Mourou speaks during a press conference in Tunis, on September 17, 2019. (AFP)

“I am in favour of distancing the president Said from political pressures and counter-pressures, just as for the prime minister ,” said Mourou. The prime minister “needs parliamentary support from the political parties, but it would be wrong to call for the president’s removal. Today, there are other priorities such as the economy and improving social conditions.”

Recently, several parties, such as Ennahda and the Free Destourian Party,  have called for street demonstrations and exerting influence on public opinion. While the Islamist Movement says that its call aims to “uphold legitimacy,” Abir Moussi’s party justifies the step by saying it aims to defend “legitimacy and the civilian state’.”

Here, Mourou sees no reason for such calls. He explained to The Arab Weekly that “street demonstrations are dangerous in addition to the fact that authorities do not use street demonstrations, but highlight achievements. The opposition uses street demonstrations within the scope of protest and not to pursue politics. The two sides, those in the opposition and in power, assume the responsibility for that.”

Ghannouchi must step down

Politically, Ghannouchi faces criticism. It is possible to change the speaker of parliament through laws and regulations as it happens in other systems.

Tensions continue in parliament which were ushered in by the 2019 elections. The legislature is split about the attempts to overthrow its speaker, the historic leader of the Ennahda, Ghannouchi.

Mourou claims that the problem is not the parliament speaker’s position. “Indeed, the speaker of the parliament is criticised politically, and so are his deputies, because we saw his deputy, Samira Chaouachi, indulging in insults and in swearing although there were no flaws in her management of the parliament. However, some parties do not want to recognise the parliament or the revolution, and seek to tear down the parliament. There are ways to disrupt the parliament.  There is a desire to show public opinion that parliament is impotent/|

Mourou added that ‘It is possible to change the speaker of parliament through laws and regulations as it happens in other systems (…).Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi did not quarrel over prerogatives with anyone because these powers are guaranteed by law in democratic systems. However, for me, I believe Ghannouchi should retire from politics because we have exhausted tired in the Ennahda movement for fifty years… He should consider it a friendly and a patriotic advice and retire from politics to devote himself to another activity.”

Islamists and power

Tunisians marked the tenth anniversary of the uprising that has toppled the regime of the late President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali a few days ago, amid accusations about responsibility for the setbacks the country has endured over the past decade.

Ennahda found the target of the accusations from its opponents. They said that Ennahdha did not offer any contribution to the country over the past years as the economic and social conditions have worsened, sparking angry protests calling for the “overthrow of the regime’’.

Mourou stressed that ”The Islamists did not provide any alternative in matters of nation building during this decade. They say that they never had the opportunity for and that they entered into political struggles instead of entering into the revolution.” He explained that, “The same applies to the rest of the shades of the spectrum as well.” He wondered, ” What did the Destourians offer? ”What did the leftists offer? What did the pan-Arabists offer? They all offered nothing. They were busy in political battles that change nothing in Tunisians’ realities. They should have worked with one another for change.”

Mourou was among the leaders who left the Islamic Trend Movement in the 1990s after his fellow members attacked one of the ruling party’s offices. After the revolution, Mourou participated in parliamentary elections as an independent candidate but failed to reach parliament before returning to the party in 2012 and contributing to negotiations with the modernists.

Among the controversial issues for which Tunisians probably never forgave Mourou and his fellow Islamists was their welcome in 2013 of radical salafist Wajdy Ghoneim, who was expelled from London in 2009.  Mourou later apologised for hosting him in Tunisia.

The Islamists were also criticised for declaring Tunisia’s historic leader Habib Bourguiba an apostate. Islamists objected to the first Tunisian president’s far-reaching reforms in the areas of women rights and his efforts to curtail the traditional religious establishment’s role.

Mourou asserts on this point that “This was doubtlessly a mistake. Parties do make mistakes and make up for them with actions, parties evolve with time and through mistakes, and parties exist during a phase of the nation’s journey and then fade away, parties make mistakes during these phases, either because of the exercise of power or because of insufficient awareness, but neither Ennahdha, nor any other party, can last. That was a mistake.”