Ghannouchi’s contacts with Turkey, Qatar stir controversy in Tunisia

Parliament speaker accused of using his position to promote Islamist agenda
Friday 08/05/2020
A file picture of the leader of the Free Destourian Party (PDL) Abir Moussi (C) as she challenges the swearing of the collective oath, during the first session of parliament, last November. (AFP)
Raising questions. A file picture of the leader of the Free Destourian Party (PDL) Abir Moussi (C) as she challenges the swearing of the collective oath, during the first session of parliament, last November. (AFP)

TUNIS--Tunisia’s parliament rejected a request by an opposition party to hold a public debate over Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi’s contacts with Turkey, Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated figures in Libya.

The anti-Islamist Free Destourian Party (PDL) accused Ghannouchi, who is also the head of Tunisia’s Ennahda Islamist party,  of taking advantage of his role as parliament speaker to support the regional agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Parliament’s executive office, which sets the agenda for legislative debates, said on Thursday that the accusation has no legal basis.

But PDL head Abir Moussi doubled down on her claims against Ghannouchi and said she would take the case to court.

Moussi warned against contacts Ghannouchi allegedly made in recent days, saying he violated Tunisian law as well as “diplomatic and parliamentary norms.” Speaking to a private Tunisian radio station, Moussi accused the parliament speaker of concealing information about his contacts from deputies and the general public.

She repeated her criticism on a video  published on her party’s official Facebook page, alledging a “dangerous” cover-up she said was taking place on behalf of Ghannouchi.

Moussi singled out a phone call Ghannouchi received from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which was reported by Turkish news agency “Anadolu” April 25 but not posted on Ghannouchi’s official page.

Moussi frequently calls out the Islamist Ennahda party and Ghannouchi for alleged coordination with states like Turkey and Qatar affilated with the international Muslim Brotherhood movement, without consideration of diplomatic norms.

Moussi has warned that Ghannouchi aims to “turn the parliament into a tool to implement an Islamist agenda in the Arab Maghreb,” adding that “the Parliament has become a private and personal farm for the ‘Sheikh of the Brotherhood’.”

Observers said Moussi has succeeded in shedding light on Ghannouchi’s agenda, which other political figures are often wary of confronting for fear of losing Ennahda’s support in parliament.

Libyan and Turkish media channels also reported a phone conversation between Ghannouchi and Khalid al-Mishri, chairman of the Libyan High Council of State, May 5.

On that call, the two Islamist leaders emphasised “the need to activate Maghreb institutions to serve the peoples of the region, (…) and the importance of deepening cooperation between them, to face common challenges”, according to a statement put out by the Libyan High Council.

A few days before calling Mishri, Ghannouchi held another call with Erdogan. Many Tunisians and Libyans have been critical of the lack of transparency about such interactions, which coincide with the military escalation in western Libya.

Former Libyan Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Muhammed Saeed Al-Qashshat wrote on his official Facebook page that Ghannouchi was guilty of colluding with the Turkish president against Libya.

Controversy over Ghannouchi’s contacts could fuel more resentment in Tunisia and Libya in the coming days due to their security political, security and military implications.