Resignations in Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda amid debate on Al-Ghannouchi’s future

Bassem Aly , Sunday 1 Nov 2020

Ennahda is reportedly witnessing a fierce internal debate between two camps on whether Al-Ghannouchi should be allowed to run for a new term as the party’s leader.

Leader of Tunisia's Islamist Ennahda party Rached Al-Ghannouchi REUTERS

A member of Ennahda’s Shura Council in Tunisia resigned on Sunday amid an internal debate in the Islamist party on the future of its leader and parliament speaker Rached Al-Ghanounchi, Al-Arabiya news TV reported on Sunday.

Lotfy Zaitoun is the second leading figure to leave Ennahda in recent weeks. Amna Al-Deredy, a female key cadre in the Islamist party, made a similar move on 21 October, though refusing to give specific reasons on why she took this decision.

Ennahda, which has the largest number of seats in Tunisia’s parliament with 54 seats, is reportedly witnessing a fierce internal debate between two camps on whether Al-Ghannouchi should be allowed to run for a new term as the party’s leader.

While one camp strongly backs rewriting the party’s regulations to allow Al-Ghannouchi to do so, another one —known as the hundred-leader group— opposes this scenario and wants a transfer of power to take place during the party’s convention that will take place before the end of this year.

According to Al-Arabiya, the latter camp issued a statement on 14 October to denounce Al-Ghannouchi’s “endeavor to change the basic laws of the movement, and delay the start of preparations for the eleventh convention, that was not held as scheduled, and his [Ghannouchi] announcement that he will be running for the presidential elections in 2024.”

Ennahda’s figures, in the same statement, stressed that the regulations of the Islamist group stipulate that its leader can lead it for only two terms, accusing Al-Ghannouchi of trying to exclude and harm the reputation of those who signed the statement.

“The situation inside the Ennahda movement is frightening and has reached an unprecedented deterioration in its history, because its leader Rached Al-Ghannouchi did not respond to the demands calling him to respect the law, purify the movement’s internal environment, and perform his role and duty in unifying its ranks,” said the statement that was read by Tunisian local radio.

Ennahda’s internal crisis began last May when a group of its top-level officials called for the circulation of power on basis of the existing regulations.

This bloc then included, but was not limited to, the shura council’s head Abdel-Karim Harouni; foreign relations officer Rafik Abdel-Salam; politburo officer Nour Al-Din Al-Arabawi; elections officer Mohsen Al-Noweishi; shura council’s deputy head Mokhtar Al-Lamoshi; migration officer Fakhr Al-Din Sheleq; deputy head of foreign relations officer Soheil Al-Shabi and syndicates’ officer Mohamed Al-Kalawi.

These tensions eventually led to a long list of resignations in past months amid claims that Ghannouchi enjoys a monopoly over decision-making. The most important one was arguably that of Ennahda’s deputy leader and co-founder Abdel-Fattah Mourou in May.

Both Al-Ghannouchi and Mourou, a former presidential candidate, established the so-called Islamic Tendency Movement in 1981, which earned its current name, Ennahda, in 1989 after being legally recognised in 1984.

Al-Ghannouchi is being challenged by both his fellow party members and anti-Islamist political forces in Tunisia. In July, opposition MPs officially submitted a request to hold a vote of no-confidence against Al-Ghannouchi after securing the support of 73 MPs, the number of backers required to move forward with the process.

At this point in time, they said they were “fed up with Al-Ghannouchi’s suspicious moves and practices,” including his “attempt to implement the Muslim Brotherhood's agenda” in Tunisia, accusing him of seeking to expand his authority by disregarding the president.

But they failed to gather the required 109 votes to withdraw confidence from Al-Ghannouchi. Only 97 MPs voted for this proposal, while 16 voted against it.

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