Tunisian president criticises alliance between Ennahda and prime minister

Caid Essebsi also called for a “thorough investigation” into allegations that Ennahda had formed a “secret apparatus” accused of involvement in illicit and violent activities.
Tuesday 29/01/2019
President Beji Caid Essebsi during the interview. (Tunisian presidency)
President Beji Caid Essebsi during the interview. (Tunisian presidency)

TUNIS - Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi called for an investigation into accusations the Islamist Ennahda Movement party was linked to an alleged secret apparatus suspected of illicit activities.

In an exclusive interview with The Arab Weekly and London-based Al Arab, Caid Essebsi also accused Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed and Ennahda of creating a covert alliance to shore up Chahed's fortunes in presidential elections this year.

"Chahed wants to stay in power,” said Caid Essebsi in the interview published January 29. “Ennahda understood his ambitions and dealt with him intelligently. They pushed him to create a new party that would share power with Ennahda after the 2019 elections.”

The president’s remarks are the latest chapter in a months-long political dispute within the country’s secularist Nidaa Tounes party, which was founded by Caid Essebsi.

Chahed, formerly a leading figure in Nidaa Tounes, fell out with the party last May but retained his position as head of government because of backing from Ennahda.

Chahed's followers recently announced the formation of “Tahya Tounes” (Long Live Tunisia), a party with which the prime minister is expected to run for president in November elections.

“(Ennahda President) Rached Ghannouchi would secretly support him (Chahed) so he presents his candidacy to the presidential office,” said Caid Essebsi. “This is clear to everybody in Tunisia.”

The presumed power play signals a low point in relations between Nidaa Tounes and Ennahda. Both parties had governed through a power-sharing arrangement following Caid Essebsi’s election as president in 2014.

Caid Essebsi announced the end of the two parties’ “entente” last September, saying Ennahda had decided to “take another path.”

Caid Essebsi called for a “thorough investigation” into allegations that Ennahda had formed a “secret apparatus” accused of involvement in illicit and violent activities.

In October, a coalition of leftist groups brought forward accusations that the secret apparatus, allegedly connected to Ennahda, was involved in eavesdropping and other illegal and criminal activities, including the dispatching of jihadists to Syria and the assassination of leftist leaders Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi in 2013.

“We must ascertain whether there was a secret apparatus,” said Caid Essebsi. “This is denied by Ennahda but its existence is asserted by many observers, politicians and lawyers who are following the issue of the martyrs' assassinations. A country like Tunisia that wants its revolution to be fair must know whether such an apparatus exists or not.”

By “martyrs,” Caid Essebsi was referring to Belaid and Brahmi.

“Ennahda should have nothing to fear from such an investigation if it has nothing to hide,” he added.

Ennahda denies forming any such apparatus.

With tensions rising between Nidaa Tounes and Ennahda, Caid Essebsi, 92, left open the possibility that he could run for re-election.

“The day I decide to present my candidacy, if at all, my true motive will be the interest of Tunisia but, if the interest of Tunisia requires someone else, I will give him my full support,” said Caid Essebsi, stressing that it was not his intention to be “president for life.”

Nidaa Tounes is scheduled in March to have its annual convention aimed at restructuring and re-energising the party. It is there that Caid Essebsi could be nominated as the party’s presidential candidate.

The Tunisian president is also gearing up to host the Arab League summit in March.

“The internal situation in Tunisia will not affect the summit,” said Caid Essebsi. “Everybody will welcome the summit, which will be a summit for all and will take place in the best of circumstances.”

Regarding Syria’s potential participation in the event, Caid Essebsi said Tunisia would support “the resolutions endorsed by the Arab League.”

“We do not harbour negative attitudes towards Syria or anyone else. We stand with the Arab consensus,” he said.