Why is Ghannouchi facing a Brotherhood-instigated campaign?

The Tunisian Islamist leader criticised for “opportunistic” stance towards France.
Friday 13/11/2020
Ghannouchi receives French ambassador at his office in the parliament, November 10. (https://www.facebook.com/AmbaFranceTn/)
Ghannouchi receives French ambassador at his office in the parliament, November 10. (facebook.com/AmbaFranceTn/)

TUNIS--Writers, media figures and Muslim Brotherhood members known for their close ties with Qatar, some living in the Qatari capital Doha, have targeted Tunisia’s Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist Ennahda party, with seemingly well-orchestrated attacks.

The hostile campaign aimed at the Islamist leader came after he said he hoped “transient and marginal events” would not affect relations between Tunisia and France.

Ghannouchi made the remarks as he received the new French Ambassador to Tunisia Andre Baran, referring to the wave of protests in parts of the Muslim world against cartoons depicting Islam’s Prophet Mohammed published by a French magazine, an incident exploited by the Muslim Brotherhood to promote https://www.facebook.com/AmbaFranceTn/its agenda and political manoeuvres.

Ghannouchi was subsequently accused of “opportunism,” “betrayal” and “great religious transgression,” in harsh attacks that many speculated had been green-lighted by Qatar.

Muhammad al-Mukhtar al-Shanqeeti, a researcher at the Qatar Foundation in Doha who supports the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology, said in a tweet that the least that could be said of Ghannouchi’s efforts “to appease Macron’s government, help it wash away its shame, and cover up its official contempt for Islamic sanctities (…) is that these efforts are a form political opportunism and humiliating beggary.”

Egyptian member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars Muhammad al-Saghir said that “Ghannouchi’s reaction to the crisis of the offensive cartoons (…) is a major religious and political transgression that neither reason nor law can accept.”  He added, “a true believer cannot stand idle towards such acts and only hypocrites will remain silent.”

Tunisian political analysts wondered about the origin of the campaign against Ghannouchi, which drew in Muslim Brotherhood figures from the Arab Gulf region, Egypt and Jordan, considering that the Tunisian Islamist leader is known for his close ties to Qatar and Turkey.

Some political observers wondered whether France, rather than Ghannouchi, was the primary target of the criticism.

These analysts noted the particular timing of the criticism of Ghannouchi, right on the eve of Tunisian President Kais Saied’s scheduled visit Doha on November 14.

In recent months, the relationship between Saied and Ghannouchi, who is also parliament speaker, has been troubled by disagreements over prerogatives. Some commentators speculated that Doha was probably trying to appease Saied ahead of the much-awaited visit.

In recent weeks, Ghannouchi has attempted to soothe tensions with France following protests over the contentious cartoons, calls to boycott French products in some Muslim countries and a terrorist attack allegedly carried out by a young Tunisian in the French city of Nice.

Ghannouchi’s aim to restore calm with France comes after French President Emmanuel Macron’s statements about the need to wage a long, serious battle against political Islam.

Some argue the Islamist leader has serious concerns that his Islamist movement could be in the crosshairs of France, a country that still wields huge political and economic clout in Tunisia.

France and other European countries have begun to change their approach to Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups, viewing them as a threat after they were tolerated. Among the Islamist figures that could pay the price for this change of policy is Ghannouchi himself, who spent many years in Britain before returning to Tunisia in 2011.

The Muslim Brotherhood figures’ veiled attack on secularist France through their criticism of Ghannouchi reflects simmering Islamist anger against Paris, which is now leading a European campaign to restrict the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities, dismantle its financial networks and reveal the truth about their role in advancing terrorism by promoting a militant culture based on hostility to the West.

The Muslim Brotherhood attacks could also usher in  a rapid deterioration of relations between Paris and Doha, although Qatar has long pumped significant investment into French coffers. Some wonder if Doha is afraid of seeing the political cover it has enjoyed till now in France and Europe lifted. But its acquaintance with the Brotherhood could do even more harm than that.