After Ghannouchi hearing, Tunisia’s Abir Moussi emerges as rising star

For Ennahda, a political heavyweight that holds 54 seats, the parliament speaker and 5 ministerial portfolios, pressure is building like never before.
Friday 05/06/2020
The leader of the Free Destourian Party (PDL) Abir Moussi waves as she attends the first session of parliament following October elections on November 13, 2019 in the Tunisian capital Tunis. (AFP)
The leader of the Free Destourian Party (PDL) Abir Moussi waves as she attends the first session of parliament following October elections on November 13, 2019 in the Tunisian capital Tunis. (AFP)

TUNIS--Despite a fragmented opposition in Tunisia’s parliament, anti-Islamist leader Abir Moussi, a young political figure who heads the Free Destourian Party (PDL), was able to pull together a solid front to counter the influence of Parliament Speaker and head of the Islamist Ennahda party Rached Ghannouchi.

The highly publicised show of force in Tunisia’s parliament June 3 during a debate on Tunisia’s role in the conflict in next-door Libya added intense pressure on Ghannouchi and his Islamist party, which faces accusations of strategic coordination with foreign parties such as Turkey and Qatar.

Since the beginning of her mandate as MP, Moussi has been in the crosshairs due to her connections with the former regime of ousted leader Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

But at just 45, the outspoken former lawyer is charting a new political course, relentlessly calling out Islamists over their alleged foreign connections and lack of commitment to Tunisia’s civil ideals. On June 3, she was able to secure a solid 94 votes in parliament for her draft motion condemning foreign intervention Libya, one of her most striking political victories to date.

Abir Moussi, Tunisian leader of the Free Destourian Party (PDL), attends a plenary session devoted to discussing a motion tabled by her party on the situation in Libya, on June 3. (AFP)
Abir Moussi, Tunisian leader of the Free Destourian Party (PDL), attends a plenary session devoted to discussing a motion tabled by her party on the situation in Libya, on June 3. (AFP)

While the draft motion was not adopted, Moussi’s ability to garner support from 78 deputies outside her party (the PDL has only 16 seats) that are part of a general “democratic family” was an impressive achievement that helped her mend ties with some political groups wary of her early ties to the Ben Ali regime and even win over some of Ghannouchi’s traditional allies.   

Some political figures said Moussi’s resolution likely would have won even more support if not for her controversial reputation.

“Some deputies refused to vote for the motion because it was introduced by Abir Moussi, even though the merit would have gone, whatever happened, to the entire assembly,” said Hassouna Nasfi, head of the parliamentary bloc the National Reform.

Qalb Tounes, which holds the second most seats in parliament behind Ennahda and has usually lent support to the Islamist group, saw most of its deputies vote in favour of the motion. That sent a strong signal to Ennahda that its fragile alliances could be beginning to crumble.

In addition to the PDL’s bloc (16 deputies), the motion won votes from the People’s Movement (14 deputies), which is part of the Democratic Bloc, Qalb Tounes (28 deputies), the Reform Bloc (16 deputies), Tahya Tounes (14 deputies), the National Bloc (9 deputies) and the Future Bloc (9 deputies), as well as a number of deputies who do not belong to parliamentary blocs, including Safi Said and Faisal al-Tebini.

Mustapha Ben Ahmed, a deputy with the Tahya Tounes bloc, told The Arab Weekly “the decline of Ennahda opens the way for the expansion of the opposition’s ranks within the Parliament, especially if the Islamic movement continues the policy of escaping forward.”

He noted that the loss of the Qalb Tounes’s bloc was an especially painful blow for Ennahda.

During a fiery speech in parliament, Moussi vowed that her numbers would “increase more and more.”

For Ennahda, a political heavyweight that holds 54 seats, the parliament speaker and 5 ministerial portfolios, pressure is building like never before.

While Ghannouchi likely predicted he could take advantage of divisions in parliament, the outcome showed how out of touch he is with the political winds.  

Ghannouchi, perhaps realising he had overplayed his hand, even sounded contrite at the end of the session, saying: “I listened to all your criticisms and remarks. I have to take them into consideration because if I am here, it is thanks to you. I must also be closer to you. “

Apart from shining a spotlight on Ghannouchi’s foray into the Libyan conflict, the parliamentary session also revealed critical differences within the ruling coalition. Ennahdha and the People’s Movement, which both sit on the Council of Ministers, expressed public disagreements. While the Democratic Current movement, led by Mohamed Abbou, struggled to articulate a clear geostrategic vision, with its deputies voicing many divergent views.

 Tahya Tounes, Qalb Tounes and the People’s Movement put their longstanding feud on hold to back the PDL’s campaign, a rare show of unity that would have been unthinkable just a month ago. Ultimately, the motion to reject any foreign intervention in the Libyan conflict allowed the diverse grouping of political players to restore their image, setting themselves clearly against Ennahda and its alleged foreign policy manoeuvres.

 “The motion’s winning of 94 votes is in itself a brilliant victory against the existing system, put in place by the Muslim Brotherhood,” PDL deputy Thameur Saad told The Arab Weekly.

 “We succeeded in bringing together the modernist and civil forces around a unified goal. The voting process also resulted in the emergence of a new front that represents a majority compared to that of Ennahda,” Saad added, noting that the new front “will face the rival side, and as time progresses, this means the balance will shift between the ruling camp and the opposition.”