Mohsen Marzouk: Ghannouchi “now a divisive figure for most Tunisians”

Tunisian centrist leader advocates for democratic presidential system.
Saturday 06/06/2020
A file picture of Tunisian centrist leader Mohsen Marzouk. (AP)
A file picture of Tunisian centrist leader Mohsen Marzouk. (AP)

TUNIS –Tunisian politician and head of Machrou Tounes (Tunisia Project)  party, Mohsen Marzouk, spoke with The Arab Weekly.

A leading figure in the moderate secularist camp in Tunisia and a former presidential candidate and former presidential advisor to late President Beji Caid Essebsi, Marzouk advocates for the abolition of the political system with which Ennahda keeps its hold on power.

He warned against dragging Tunisia into a profound political crisis because of the alignment of certain parties behind the “politics of axes”, as revealed by the outcome of a rowdy discussion session in parliament that was devoted to questioning the Parliament speaker and head of the Ennahda Movement Rached Ghannouchi.

The session eventually ended with the rejection of the motion about foreign intervention in Libya, submitted by the Free Constitutional Party (PDL).

The motion was 15 votes short of the needed majority to pass. A total of  94 MPs voted in favour of the resolution, drafted in response to Ghannouchi’s controversial expression of support to the Tripoli-based Government of National accord  in the conflict in next-door Libya, while 68 voted against and 7 abstained.

Commenting on developments in the political scene in Tunisia after rejection of the said motion condemning interference in Libyan affairs and the clear “bias” shown by the Islamist Ennahda Movement and its head Rached Ghannouchi in favour of the Turkish backed-Islamist axis, Marzouk said: “Indeed, as we were searching for a position against foreign interference in Libya, we clearly discovered this same foreign interference in Tunisia.”

Although several parliamentary blocs supported the motion of the Free Constitutional Party, it ended up being rejected. For Marzouk, “Rejection of the resolution reveals the existence (in Tunisia and the parliament) of people with a clear interest in having foreign aggression continue in Libya and who even may be connected to it (this aggression).”

A file picture of the General Secretary of Machrou Tounes Party Mohsen Marzouk giving a speech in Tunis. (AFP)
A file picture of the General Secretary of Machrou Tounes Party Mohsen Marzouk giving a speech in Tunis. (AFP)

In his view, the events in parliament confirm the Speaker’s biased interference in foreign policy. “This clearly confirms that the game of those who want to align themselves with the Turkish axis is now exposed,” he said.

Marzouk does not exclude the hypothesis according to which the recent turn of events in parliament could precipitate Ghannouchi’s removal from office after being weakened by the wave of criticism and public anger against him.

“Clearly, he won’t be able to manage the parliament in a professional or neutral manner in the future, because he now represents a divisive figure for most Tunisians, and this means that the question of removing him from the presidency of the parliament has become a pressing issue,” Marzouk said.

Marzouk had previously accused Ghannouchi of defending Turkish interests in Tunisia. “At almost every political crisis, Ghannouchi goes to Turkey for advice and guidance. Furthermore, he more than once expressed his admiration for the Ottoman presence in Tunisia and considered it a civilizational matter,” he explained.

The head of Machrou Tounes believes that there is no future for Tunisia except with a third republic. He explained that he opposed the current system of government in Tunisia since its inception, and the founding document of Machrou Tounes Party of July 2016 called for the abolition of this system, which, in his opinion, is the noose with which Ennahda Movement Party is stifling Tunisia’s political life.

“Because of the (current) electoral system, Ennahda Movement can rule the country with a minority of votes, because the number of votes it won in the legislative elections is less than 10%. Even with this weak percentage today, Ennahda is the first political bloc in Parliament, and consequently, this political system imposes that Ennahda be represented in all governments and that it constitutes the ruling majority,” pointed out Marzouk.

He believes that the political scene is divided today, and that is why he’s demanding that the executive branches in the system be collapsed under one head. He is in favour of changing to a democratic presidential system, as he can’t understand how, in light of this social and economic circumstance, one can accept a system which places the interests of the parties above the interests of the state.

Regarding the debate about the respective powers and prerogatives of the three branches and the intensifying rivalry between them, Marzouk indicated that “President Kais Saeid has his own vision of how to change the political system and is not particularly aligned with Ennahda’s position.”

Mohsen Marzouk is one of the prominent figures of the centrist current in Tunisia. He defends the progressive societal model advocated by the late Habib Bourguiba and is weary of the return of the Islamist trend to power. “Ennahda has always been an enemy of Bourguiba’s project, which is based on having a sovereign nation and calls for the social liberation of mankind through education and health, and advocates religious moderation,” he noted.

Despite the challenges facing this project, and despite the decline of the centrist current in the recent elections, Marzouk is hopeful for a strong political comeback of this current, the signs of which he observed during the last parliamentary session through a motion that had united 96 MPs.

According to Marzouk, it was confirmed during the last parliament session that “there is a schism in the parliament between the nationalist family and another family that must clearly define whether it belongs to the country or to Turkish interests.” He wondered if it would be possible “to unite all those who came together to support the motion, or at least most of them, in one major political current.”

“We have been working on that for years now,” he said, “and it is true that we haven’t yet succeeded in reaching our goal; but the temporary lack of success does not mean that we have to give up this legitimate goal. On the contrary, we must always renew the attempt, especially when what allowed Ennahda to be in control of the political scene is primarily the divisions inside the opposing camp, meaning this centrist family, which it would be more appropriate to label as the ‘nationalist family’.”

Marzouk concluded the interview with The Arab Weekly by pointing out that the Tunisian street is counting on this nationalist elite, and that it is up to this elite now to “either accept the challenge and unite its ranks once again or remain divided and dispersed.”