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Disagreement or estrangement between Ghannouchi and Essebsi?

August 15, 2018 at 12:27 am

Ghannouchi and Essebsi

For the first time since their alliance, the leader of the Ennahda Movement in Tunisia, Rachid Ghannouchi, has refused to respond to the request of the Tunisian President, Beji Caid Essebsi, regarding the inclusion of a legal clause that stipulates equality between women and men in inheritance on the condition that the owner of the inheritance agrees.

The meeting between the men was no ordinary meeting, as they were unable to reach a compromise as they usually had in many past thorny issues. The ongoing campaign against the Individual Freedoms and Equality Committee’s report, which brings together various religious groups, succeeded in putting pressure on Ennahda and has prevented it, so far, from using the same pragmatism that has rescued it from many traps in the past and allowed it to remain a significant factor in the political scene.

Despite the religious aspect of the issue, it is a part of the status quo and will undoubtedly be subject to the political considerations, which will push it towards acceptance or rejection. This change may shift the debate from public space to the parliament, and one party or another may resort to establishing temporary alliances to block or support the presidential project.

Read: Tunisia’s Ennahda condemns campaign of distortion

The matter is not only related to the fate of this project but goes beyond that and affects the future of the political relationships between the two “sheikhs”. Could this conflict change the future of managing general affairs between Ennahda and Nidaa Tounes? Or is the door still open to reaching a compromise?

Essebsi is insisting on going far in his defence of what he considers to be “his life’s project” or that with which he wants to crown his political career. Therefore, he will put pressure on every direction in order not to be under the mercy of Ennahda and will begin with his party and try to bring together its remnants. He will also rely on the majority of the modernist parties that may go along with his project. The Popular Front party will also support him, despite its political differences with him and even though the nationalist parties have rejected the initiative on a cultural and political basis. As for the small groups in the parliament, it is difficult to predict their positions at the moment.

It may not be guaranteed that Essebsi will obtain the majority needed to pass his bill, so he will not give up his primary partner in the government. Therefore, he will continue to pressure him from many directions in hopes of Ghannouchi easing his opposition to the equal inheritance. Ghannouchi, who is quite flexible, is well aware of this matter and he is also keen not to burn the bridges of communication and cooperation with the president, despite their differences on many issues.

This time, Ghannouchi is moving on difficult terrain, in which politics and religion have mixed in an unprecedented manner. On the one hand, he cannot easily cross what he considered to be a “red line”, including the existence of an explicit text that cannot be misinterpreted, as viewed by the majority of those around him. On the other, he also fears that his party’s bases would rebel or that some of them would be assimilated into other radical groups that saw this battle as a means to establish its presence and “legitimacy” once again. Therefore, Ennahda finds itself unable to prove its division between its religious and political sides at a time when the mosque imams have formed a bloc to confront the presidential project.

Ghannouchi is also concerned that he and his movement would be pushed into the ranks of the conservatives, as he had made significant efforts to build trust with the West over the past seven years. He is currently afraid that this dispute with Essebsi will reflect on his image and the image of his movement on the international level and considering them against gender equality.

Until the project is presented to parliament, Ennahda continues to remain cautious and avoids political and field escalation. Statements issued by many officials clarify this, and it will enable the movement to focus on the issue of inheritance in the next stage, without any concerns from other parties. Moreover, communication far from the spotlight may lead to reaching an agreement that could remove everyone from the current impasse, push the country away from extremism, and confirm its adherence to the path of reform and modernity.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.