The political crisis in Tunisia escalated this week between the Islamist Ennahda Party, the most important force in the country’s 217-seat parliament with 52 seats, and the anti-Islamist blocs in developments that are likely to become even more serious over the coming days and weeks.
Writing on Facebook, interim Tunisian Prime Minister Elyes Al-Fakhfakh decided to remove all the Ennahda ministers from his coalition government this week, meaning that the North African country’s most-important party in parliament will now not be in the cabinet unless a new one is formed.
Al-Fakhfakh had earlier resigned in the wake of a threatened no-confidence motion orchestrated by Ennahda. But as caretaker prime minister he has been able to move to expel Ennahda from the government.
Ennahda officials who lost their posts include former minister of youth and sports Ahmed Gaaloul, former minister of public works, housing and planning Moncef Sliti, former minister of state for local affairs Lotfi Zitoun, former minister of transportation and logistics Anwar Maarouf, former minister of health Abdel-Latif Mekki and former minister of higher education and scientific research Selim Al-Shoura.
Replacements were appointed in Ghazi Al-Shouashi, Asmaa Al-Seheri, Shoukri Belhassan, Fadel Karem, Al-Habib Al-Kasho and Lobna Al-Gerebi as ministers of housing, youth and sports, local affairs, transportation, health and higher education, respectively.
Al-Fakhfakh was responding to Ennahda’s efforts to remove him from his post as prime minister in removing the Ennahda figures, the Islamist Party having previously said it would mobilise parliamentary support for a vote of no confidence in Al-Fakhfakh.
Media reports coming out of Tunisia, as well as the analyses of Tunisia experts, confirmed that Ennahda had secured the required 109 votes to pass the no-confidence motion, leading to Al-Fakhfakh’s resignation.
For many commentators, the crisis reveals that the Islamist and anti-Islamist forces in Tunisia can no longer work together, disagreeing on everything from the country’s stance on the conflict in neighbouring Libya to government checks and balances and who should be involved in the government.
Ahead of the crisis Ennahda had demanded talks to include new parties in the ruling coalition, including the Qalb Tounes Party. Al-Fakhfakh and the other opposition parties refused this on the grounds that Qalb Tounes leader Nabil Karoui and ex-presidential candidate had corruption allegations against him.
During his June visit to Paris, Tunisian President Kais Saied, who won Ennahda’s support during the earlier presidential elections, stood next to his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron when the latter said that France “won’t tolerate the role that Turkey is playing in Libya.”
Ennahda, reportedly backing the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya that is backed by Turkey, then organised protests against him.
The Libyan National Army (LNA), allied to the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR), controls Libya’s oil-rich, eastern regions. Egypt, France, Russia and the United Arab Emirates back the LNA, while the GNA is backed by Turkish troops, Syrian mercenaries and Qatar and controls Libya’s western and northwestern areas along with the capital Tripoli.
The situation in the Tunisian parliament is tense, with sources telling the Saudi news channel Al-Arabiya last week that opposition forces were “fed up with [Ennahda leader Rached] Al-Ghannouchi’s suspicious moves and practices,” including his “attempts to implement the Muslim Brotherhood agenda” in Tunisia.
They have accused Al-Ghannouchi of seeking to expand his authority by disregarding the president, and they have asked for a vote of no confidence in the parliament’s speaker. The parties include the Al-Kotla Al-Democrateya Party (40 MPs), Tahya Tounes, Al-Islah Al-Watani (15), Al-Kotla Al-Wataneya (nine) and the Free Destourian Party (17).
Last week, Radwan Masmoudi, a political commentator with close connections to Ennahda, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the passing of a no-confidence vote was “possible, but unlikely,” though he also said that Al-Fakhfakh’s government cannot “continue for much longer”.
“I don’t think his government can continue for much longer, especially since the case was referred to the courts. The problem is that forming a new government will not be easy and will take several months and possibly lead to early elections,” Masmoudi said, referring to corruption allegations against Al-Fakhfakh.
Arnaud Kurze, an associate professor of justice studies at Montclair State University in the US and a Woodrow Wilson Centre global fellow, argued that such “power plays and tactical maneuverings reveal a deeper systemic issue that Tunisian society has been grappling with since the ouster of [former president Zein Al-Abidine] Bin Ali in 2011.”
Kurze, said that the outcome of the crisis had yet to be seen, adding that among the parliamentary blocs that have initiated proceedings against Al-Ghannouchi are parties that were in coalition with Ennahda, such as Tahya Tounes, Al-Kotla Al-Democrateya and the People’s Movement.
These were part of growing discontent in parliament, openly expressed weeks earlier by parties including the Free Destourian Party led by Abir Moussi, he added.
Some political figures in Tunisia went further this week in saying that they no longer wanted to work in the same government with Ennahda. Among them was Zoheer Al-Maghzawi, the People Movement’s leader, who strongly backed Al-Fakhfakh.
“It is not meant for Tunisia to either be ruled by Ennahda or have no alternatives,” Al-Maghzawi stated, stressing that Ennahda “has now been isolated.”
Yet, other opposition parties such as the Al-Kotla Al-Democrateya believe that “no government in Tunisia can be formed or guarantee stability without Ennahda,” indicating the depths of the disagreements now at work among the country’s opposition parties.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 23 July, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly