Ennahda figures petition Ghannouchi to step down

The signatories threatened to resign from the party if their two demands are not met within a week.
Wednesday 16/09/2020
Tunisian Islamist party leader Rached Ghannouchi arrives at a government ceremony in Carthage on the eastern outskirts of the capital Tunis on September 3. (AFP)
Tunisian Islamist party leader Rached Ghannouchi arrives at a government ceremony in Carthage on the eastern outskirts of the capital Tunis on September 3. (AFP)

TUNIS – About 100 members of Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda Movement, including deputies, members of the executive bureau, members of the political bureau, figures from its regional offices and the Shura council, sent a petition to the party’s President Rached Ghannouchi late Tuesday asking him not to seek another term as the movement’s leader.

Among the most prominent signatories are Mohamed Ben Salem, Samir Dilou, Abdellatif Mekki and Noureddine Arbaoui.

In their petition, the signatories demand that Ghannouchi declare within one week how Ennahda’s annual convention will be organised by the end of 2020, as decided at a Shura council meeting in June.

They are also calling on him to refrain from attempting to amend article 31 of the party’s internal guidelines, which currently prevents him from running for a third term as Ennahda’s president.

The four-page petition goes so far as to condemn the wave of resignations of major party figures since its 2016 convention, a trend for which it holds Ghannouchi directly responsible.

The signatories note that they have always fought against dictatorship and the concept of presidency for life and will never accept such power dynamics within their party. They asked Ghannouchi what image their party would have among Tunisians if he attempted to extend his tenure.

The signatories threatened to resign from the party if their two demands are not met within a week.

Sources close to Ghannouchi said he reacted very badly to the petition signed by senior Ennahda figures, calling it “treason.”

Tunisian analyst Hechmi Nouira said the petition “clearly indicates that the crisis within Ennahda is real. It also indicates that the crisis has reached a stage that is difficult to contain.”

“Ennahda can no longer avoid the internal struggle for power. It is quite a normal situation for a party that went through the experience of power with some of its members benefitting from this experience,” Nouira added, noting that the party’s internal struggle will be presented as one over ideology rather than power in order to give it more credibility.

“The main focus of this political struggle will be the issue of democracy and the integrity when it comes to programmes, policies and positions. To claim legitimacy, the signatories will stress a moral focus, including uprightness and decency,” Nouira said.

So far, it appears that those supporting the petition and its demands include members who are in favour of democracy, content themselves with open work and have a real desire for social integration.

The petition could also garner support from Islamists who are less open to these principles, but believe that Ennahda has deviated from its original purpose.

There are also those who want to establish a party ruled by institutions that are not subject to the will and interests of individuals, particularly Ghannouchi and his inner circle.

The petition will also likely be welcomed by political players from outside Ennahda, including rival parties and those who want the Islamist movement to end its alleged relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood and other foreign agendas.

According to Nouira, the petition could be good news for those affected by Ennahda’s rule who wish to “take revenge” on the party. It is also likely to be welcomed by the deep state and citizens who reject the Islamist party’s hegemonic influence, which they see as “a gateway to foreign submission and a flagrant threat to the unique Tunisian civilisational model.”

However, some segments within the Islamist party will naturally voice strong opposition to the petition, including those who benefit from and cling to Ghannouchi’s authority to preserve the party’s stability.

Nouira pointed out that others outside the party could also push back against the petition, including “those who linked their fate, their alliances, and their rhetoric to the existence of Ghannouchi…they are from the right and the left, with all attitudes, and even among those afflicted with the syndrome of revolutionism.”

“Changes that result from pent-up and unrecognised crises often lead to the explosion of the organisation or entity,” said the Tunisian analyst, noting that “reform is inevitable.”

Nouira shed doubt on the prospect of Ennahda’s convention taking place this year.

“I don’t think that the (convention) of the Islamist party will be held any (time) soon because the outcome is not guaranteed and could displease some senior members within the party,” he explained.

The “parties” mentioned by Nouira are likely Ghannouchi himself and members of his inner circle.