Ennahda leaders pen second letter critical of Ghannouchi
TUNIS –Almost a month after 100 members of Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda Movement sent a petition to the party’s President Rached Ghannouchi for him not to seek another term as the movement’s leader, another letter emerged Wednesday from the same group.
The second letter, addressed to members and supporters of the Islamist party, reiterated their opposition to potential amendments of the party’s internal guidelines, which currently prevent Ghannouchi from running for a third term as Ennahda’s president.
It also included threats that the 100 signatories could release documents “that prove poor governance” within the party, but stressed they prefer a “brotherly and friendly approach” and called on fellow Islamists to compare their first letter and Ghannouchi’s response to see their claims’ legitimacy.
In the second letter, which was released by a local radio station, the signatories spoke of an “unethical” campaign pressuring and intimidating them.
They criticised Ghannouchi’s response to their first letter, in which the Islamist leader compared the signatories to army generals and putschists.
According to the signatories, Ghannouchi took their statements out of context and distorted the message. They said they remain committed to Ennahda’s presence on the political scene and to their position, but opposed their internal rules being amended.
The signatories stressed that their message was exclusively addressed to Ghannouchi, criticising how it was leaked to the public one day after it was sent, and said they do not make up a parallel structure within Ennahda.
“The unity of the party is the ceiling under which our group moves,” the signatories said in their letter, arguing that commitment to party unity cannot turn into “silence.” They considered that silence would transform Ennahda into “a closed sect, limited in number, poor in imagination and weak in thoughts.”
The signatories said any amendment to the party’s internal guidelines would be a blow to Ennahda’s credibility and stressed that their call for Ghannouchi to respect the law does not mean that he will not have a role in the future.
Ghannouchi, according to the signatories, has announced his intention to run again for Ennahda’s presidential elections in 2024.
However, the letter’s signatories said that Ennahda had reached its lowest point in history and that the party was deteriorating.
Last month, Ghannouchi reacted bitterly to the petition signed by nearly 100 leading members of the party, including prominent figures in its executive bureau and Shura Council, asking him to step down after his term ends this year.
Ghannouchi responded to the petition with a letter deferring to the party’s electoral procedures and criticising the signatories’ approach.
The letter jolted the Islamist rank-and-file as signatories included numerous prominent figures within the party, such as Mohamed Ben Salem, Samir Dilou, Abdellatif Mekki and Noureddine Arbaoui.
“Leaders are only replaced through elections and based on an objective assessment of their performance,” Ghannouchi wrote in a letter addressed to the signatories. “Leaders whose performance is judged modest or negative are not re-elected,” he added, noting that “the skin of leaders is quite thick.”
Ghannouchi also compared their decision to deliver him the petition during a late-night visit to putsch tactics of “military generals who come at dawn to ask their presidents to leave power.”
“The visit of the five dear brothers reminded me of visits by army generals at a late hour to ask the president of their country to resign. In reality, the visit took place during the Maghrib prayer and not at dawn,” he said.
“Those who claim democracy to impose their guardianship on the party’s 11th convention by means of exclusionary preconditions, are perhaps willing to achieve what they failed to accomplish at the 10th convention, which is the ousting of the movement’s leader,” Ghannouchi added.
He accused his critics of confusing the principle of “fair periodic elections” with “ life-long dictatorship.”
In the Ennahda members’ first letter, the signatories demanded 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 also called 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 letter also condemned the wave of resignations of major party figures since its 2016 convention, a trend for which it holds Ghannouchi directly responsible.
Accusations of treason
The signatories noted 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, threatening to resign from the party if their demands are not met within a week.
Sources close to Ghannouchi said he initially reacted very badly to the petition, calling it “treason.”
Through his dismissive reply, the Islamist leader made it clear he would not yield to the demands of the 100 party members, who include MPs, members of the executive bureau, members of the political bureau, figures from its regional offices and the Shura council.
Ghannouchi’s response revealed how he views himself as not only Ennahda’s president, but an established “leader” of the movement, bringing him and his inner circles privileges that he will fight tooth and nail to keep.
While the two letters highlight discord within the Islamist party, they have little chance of drawing any concessions from Ghannouchi, who dismissed the signatories’ criticism as “a whirlwind that will die away like other whirlwinds did in the past.”
Meanwhile, Ghannouchi also faces pressure from outside the party as Ennahda’s popularity rating plummets across the country.
In recent months, Tunisia’s political forces have been vocally critical of Ghannouchi’s political antics, including his alleged attempt to advance the Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda.
The Islamist leader has faced accusations of other serious violations such as poor management of parliamentary procedures and making unauthorised unilateral decisions. He has been repeatedly criticised for alleged abuse of authority and infringing on the prerogatives of President Kais Saied.
Tunisia’s opposition parties — the Democratic Bloc, Tahya Tounes, the National Reform, the National Bloc and the Free Doustourian party — all believe that Ghannouchi has a conflict of interest because he serves as both Ennahda president and parliament speaker.