Ghannouchi excluded from security meeting amid cold relations with president

Saied’s chairing of the meeting without inviting Ghannouchi could be an indication of the president’s attempt to limit the role of the Islamist leader in security-related matters.
Saturday 11/07/2020
Special security meeting chaired by President Kais Saied, July 9. (Tunisian Presidency)
Special security meeting chaired by President Kais Saied, July 9. (Tunisian Presidency)

TUNIS – Tunisian President Kais Saied chaired Thursday a special security meeting, attended by top army and security leaders,  without the presence of Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, also leader of the Islamist Ennahda Movement, in a move that reflects growing tension between the president and the speaker of parliament.

The meeting was held to consider the general situation in the country, especially the tense security situation in southern Tunisia, according to a statement from the Presidency of the Republic.

However, Ghannouchi was absent from the meeting, usually held to study the security situation in the country with the attendance of the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defence and the Speaker of Parliament.

Saied’s chairing of the meeting without inviting Ghannouchi could be an indication of the president’s attempt to limit the role of the Islamist leader in security-related matters.

Saied is also possibly preventing Ghannouchi from being privy to classified state information in view of his controversial and, at times, dubious ties with foreign parties, particularly Qatar, Turkey and Islamist groups.

During the meeting on Thursday, Saied warned against “the serious attempts by some to implode the state from within, by undermining its institutions and seeking to evade authority in several regions.”

“Among the existing threats is the attempt to engage the military institution in political conflicts, with the aim of pushing it into infighting and confrontation with other state institutions.”

For weeks, protesters the southernmost Tunisian town of Tataouine have blocked roads and sought to prevent trucks from delivering supplies to the remote El-Kamour pumping station in the desert outside the town.

The protests recently turned violent as demonstrators clashed with security forces. In statement put out Friday, the Ministry of Defence said troops were exercising self restraint in the face of extreme provocation but noted that incidents have coincided with increasing attempts at infiltration of the Tunisian-Libyan border by smugglers.

Protesters have been demanding that the government honours a deal reached after a months-long sit-in during 2017 to invest millions in the region’s development and provide jobs to thousands of unemployed.

“What happened in the last two days in the south is unacceptable in all respects,” Saied said, adding that he believes “all Tunisians, among them the residents of Remada and Tataouine, are clear-sighted enough to be able to calm the situation and put the country’s best interests above all other considerations.”

Tunisian political and media figures have earlier called on the president to act against conspirators and not limit the response to warning statements.

Walid Louguini, a former spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, asked Saied to “apply the law against anyone who tries to implode the state from within.”

Louguini, also a Tunisian judge, asked, “If we assume that they succeed with their schemes, will the country benefit from such warnings?”

While some have avoided blaming any specific party for the current tensions, MP Heykal Mekki from the People’s Movement accused Ennahda of being behind the tense situation.

Previously, the president has levelled indirect accusations against Ghannouchi, charging him of trying to meddle with the prerogatives of the president and prime minister in an attempt to appear as the most powerful personality in the country.

Ghannouchi, according to these accusations, abused his position as speaker of parliament – a position that does not give him the right to intervene in issues related to the country’s foreign policy decision making.

Two weeks ago, Ghannouchi’s relationship with Saied was further strained, when statements made by the Islamist leader during the latest Ennahda’s Shura Council meeting were leaked.

In those statements, Ghannouchi seemed to underestimate the president’s role and understanding of what is happening in Libya.

So far, Ghannouchi has not attempted to bridge the chasm with the president, who has been gaining the support of political and civil society forces in his struggle with the speaker of parliament, especially when it comes to the issue of foreign relations and the Islamists’ push to support the Turkish-Qatari alliance.

MPs such as Abir Moussi, the head of the Free Constitutional Party, and Mongi Rahoui, a senior leader of the leftist Democratic Patriots, have previously accused Ghannouchi of revealing state secrets to Turks and Qataris.

Moussi, in particular, is putting the Islamist leader under continued pressure and is putting herself at risk of fierce backlash from Ennahda’s senior members.

During a news conference earlier this week, she laid out the relationship between Ennahda and the Muslim Brotherhood with official documents and press articles.

Ennhada leaders were among founding members of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, she said, which has a history of extremist stances and is headquartered in Qatar.

She called again for dissolution of the Islamist movement because it “represents a real danger which threatens” the law, society, acquired rights and national security.