Tunisian parliamentary blocs disavow Ghannouchi’s support to Libyan GNA’s military campaign

The four blocs, the National Reform, Tahya Tounes, Qalb Tounes and Al Mostakbal, distanced themselves from the speaker’s move.
Friday 22/05/2020
Tunisian National Assembly members stand during a parliamentary session. (AP)
Pushback. Tunisian National Assembly members stand during a parliamentary session. (AP)

TUNIS--Four Tunisian parliamentary blocs denounced Parliament Speaker and leader of the Islamist Ennahdha Movement Rached Ghannouchi’s foreign policy manoeuvres, accusing him of trying to drag Tunisia into “international conflicts.”

The four blocs, the National Reform, Tahya Tounes, Qalb Tounes and Al Mostakbal, said Thursday Ghannouchi’s positions on the Libyan conflict “do not represent, in any way,” those of the legislative branch of government, adding that the Islamist leader has failed to “respect the foundations of Tunisian diplomacy.”

The protest statement came after Ghannouchi congratulated Fayez al-Sarraj, prime minister of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), on recapturing al-Watiya airbase during a phone call May 19.

Distancing their political parties from Ghannouchi’s statement, the leaders of the four parliamentary blocs said that the parliament speaker has no legal prerogative to communicate  positions of the country’s parliament without consultation with official bodies of the legislative branch.

Earlier this week, seven Tunisian political parties also denounced Ghannouchi’s phone call to Sarraj in a joint statement.

Various blocs of Tunisian, last January. (AFP)
Various blocs of Tunisian parliament, last January. (AFP)

The seven Tunisian political parties — Attayar Echaabi, the Workers’ Party, the Tunisia Forward Movement, the Socialist Party, the National Democratic Socialist Party, Al Qotb and the Ba’ath movement — described Ghannouchi’s move as an attempt to “bypass state institutions and drag the country into the Libyan conflict, in support of the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies.”

 

The statement issued Wednesday also regretted the role Ghannouchi has played on behalf of the country’s parliament, accusing him of “behaving like a member of the international organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood, through prioritising the interests of Islamists at the expense of those of Tunisia and its people.”

“This poses a threat to the national security of the country,” the press release said.

The seven parties also called on Tunisian President Kais Saied and other national political forces and organisations to “respond to the positions expressed by the parliament speaker, which could corroborate accusations made against Tunisia insinuating that the country has been providing logistical support to Turkey and facilitating its involvement in Libya.”

A statement published by the GNA stated that Sarraj received “a phone call from Tunisian Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi to discuss the developments in Libya.”

“During the call, Ghannouchi extended his congratulation to al-Sarraj for the GNA’s recapture of the strategic al-Watiya airbase,” added the statement.

The phone call has brought Ghannouchi vehement attacks by Tunisian politicians and commentators, some who have gone so far as to accuse the speaker of breaching the constitution by infringing upon the president’s foreign policy prerogatives.

Ghannouchi’s attempts to leverage his position as speaker of parliament into foreign policy clout was slammed as confusing his different roles at the helm of the party and parliament and ignoring the risks inherent in involving Tunisia in Libya’s conflict.

“Once again, news about Ghannouchi’s activities are carried by foreign media and sources, with no trace of such news on the page of the Tunisian House of People’s Representatives or Ghannouchi’s page,” said Mourad Allala, a Tunisian reporter and rights activist.

“This a dangerous turning point that requires the intervention of the President of the Republic as head of state, who is in charge of overseeing foreign affairs,” Allala added, noting that there are serious concerns about the fact that “Ghannouchi has been acting as the President of Ennahda rather than as Speaker of parliament.”

Tunisian journalist Mokhtar Kammoun said Ennahdha’s leader “is exceeding his powers and violating the constitution that exclusively charges the President of the Republic with overseeing the foreign policy of the state.”

Ghannouchi’s activities carried out under the justification of “parliamentary diplomacy” carries “an abuse of power and a violation of diplomatic protocols,” Kammoun added.

Ghannouchi, according to critics, should choose between his role as parliamentary speaker and the presidency of Ennahdha.

“As President of Ennahdha movement, Ghannouchi can do whatever he wants, but as parliament speaker, he should tread carefully,” said Tunisian journalist and political activist Borhan Bsais.

The Tunisian parliament is politically “diverse, and Ghannouchi is not entitled to speak in the name of deputies when tackling such a controversial file,” Bsais added, in reference to the Libyan conflict.

Tunisia has traditionally followed the diplomatic principle of non-interference in foreign conflicts, especially concerning next-door neighbours.

Ghannouchi’s remarks to Sarraj also added to suspicions about the government’s orientation towards the Libyan conflict, after the president authorised a Turkish plane carrying medical aid en route to Libya to stop and refuel in Tunisia.

The plane’s landing was widely criticised as a move towards involvement in Libya’s conflict.

A file picture of the members of Heart of Tunisia (Qalb Tounes) bloc party in the Tunisian Parliament. (DPA)
A file picture of the members of Heart of Tunisia (Qalb Tounes) bloc party in the Tunisian Parliament. (DPA)

Numerous leftist and pan-Arabist parties condemned any “Turkish activity on Tunisian soil” aimed at lending support “to militias and terrorists” in Libya and denounced what they described as “the continuation of the ambiguous approach by Tunisian authorities towards Turkish activities in the region.”

The parties, which included Attayar Ach-Chaabi (Popular Current), the Labour Party, the Socialist Party, the Ba’ath Party, the Tounes al-Amam movement and the Pole Party, “denounced any attempt at dragging Tunisia in the game of regional alliances at the expense of the country’s national security interests and the security and stability of the Libyan people.”