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Tunisia faces hard tests to protect its democracy

Tunisian Parliament Speaker Rashid Al Ghannouchi attends the 4th congress of Nahda movement student branches at Tunisia University in Tunis, Tunisia on 18 January 2020. [Yassine Gaidi - Anadolu Agency]
Tunisian Parliament Speaker Rashid Al Ghannouchi attends the 4th congress of Nahda movement student branches at Tunisia University in Tunis, Tunisia on 18 January 2020. [Yassine Gaidi - Anadolu Agency]

External interference in Tunisian affairs and acute ideological disagreements among the political components have been the main factors that have seemingly undermined the Tunisian Revolution, triggering the Arab Spring in 2011.

The external interference represented is the persistence of certain international and regional powers to keep the Tunisian Islamists, the Ennahda party, away from authority. The ideological disagreement leads certain parties and politicians to seek the same goals – preventing Ennahda from obtaining power.

Identifying the intrusion of the international and Western powers, who do not want to see the Islamists in power, is a complex mission, because they do not disclose their intentions and plans. At the time, they claimed that they supported democratic power transitions and respected the people's will. They exerted massive clandestine efforts to undermine democratic experiences and destroy entities freely elected by the people. This was clear in the Palestinian territories, Egypt, Syria and Libya.

Regional powers, whose interference in other countries' internal affairs has been abundantly clear, includes Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Speaking at the Maghreb Forum in Morocco earlier this year, the former Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki accused Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt of leading a counter-revolution in North Africa, by targeting Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. Many other politicians and monitors have also declared this.

In Tunisia, these countries are working to undermine democracy through supporting several political parties, including a small one consisting mainly of remnants of the former Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali's regime – the Free Destourian Party (PDL), chaired by lawyer Abir Moussi. The first apparent link between Moussi's party and the aforementioned countries, is their common obsession in undermining political Islam.

This allows large mass media networks like Al Arabiya, Al Ghad, Sky News Arabia, and others funded by the three countries, to give Moussi wide coverage and to report fake news reflecting chaos and instability in the country.

READ: Political meddling may lead to the Tunisian revolution being killed off 

For example, in May, Al Ghad broadcast a report on alleged demonstrations across the country and claimed that Tunisians were protesting against the government over unemployment. However, the report showed footage of a football-related demonstration in Bizerte and footage of a demonstration against the US deal of the century.

Saudi, UAE and Egyptian-funded channels also broadcast live discussions of the Tunisian parliament meeting related to the state's position on Libya, claiming that it was a session to question parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, head of the Ennahda party. These news outlets freely air Moussi, her party and analysts who are obsessed with authoritarianism and longing for the former dictatorship. Moussi and her party members have several times described the revolution as a conspiracy, and openly call for Islamists to be removed from the political stage.

This is the first, and one of the most important and difficult tests facing Tunisians who have been fighting since 2011 to protect their revolution, and to avoid the fate of the revolutions of other countries like Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen.

Another test is the political and ideological disagreement among the different political and ideological components in the political arena. The origin of the disagreement between the two sides is the long defamation campaigns run and funded by the state, alongside the large world powers, which do not hope to see Islamists ruling the Muslim countries, fearing the revival of Muslim unity.

To keep Islamists away from power, the different autocratic regimes in the different Arab and Muslim countries have been persecuting them, delegitimising them and defaming them. If they take up authority, they would supress freedom, destroy economies and turn their back on the modern progress inspired by the "developed" Western countries.

This leads to two different kinds of enemies for the Islamists: those who openly declare their hostility towards the Islamists, like Moussi, and those who hide their hostility, like President Kais Saied.

Saied is a religious Muslim professor of law, but does not believe that Islamists should be involved in politics.

People stage a protest against the unemployment, in Kamur region of Tataouine, Tunisia on 16 July 2020. [Nacer Talel - Anadolu Agency]

People stage a protest against the unemployment, in Kamur region of Tataouine, Tunisia on 16 July 2020. [Nacer Talel – Anadolu Agency]

Since he was elected president, he has been showing strong disagreement with Ennahda. A Tunisian politician close to the presidential palace informed me that Saied has chosen all of his aides from the secularists, stressing that he did so due to his hostility with the Islamists. This was clear when he nominated Elyes Fakhfakh to form the government earlier this year, despite suspicions of corruption, and pushed Ennahda to a point that it could not reject him.

Less than five months in office, Fakhfakh filed his resignation from his post. In the resignation statement, he disclosed that he resigned: "In order to pave the way to get out of the crisis and avert further difficulties for the country." He refers to the corruption claims surrounding him.

Fakhfakh found himself obliged to resign after the Ennahdha party had withdrawn its support for his government, in the wake of claims emerging last month that the prime minister owned shares in companies that won deals worth 44 million dinars ($15 million) from the state. Ennahda wants nothing more than a clean-handed prime minister to run the state, in line with Saied, but he does not want an Islamist prime minister.

Now the ball is in Saied's court, who has the power to nominate a new prime minister. He has very narrow choices as most of the prominent politicians are either Islamists, or from the affiliates of Ben Ali's regime. Saied is likely to fail in the test of choosing the best candidate for the prime minister post, as he recognises that the state is passing through a difficult situation and does not take practical measures to help while he has the power to do so.

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Tunisian lawyer Samir Ben Amor posted on his Facebook page: "Mr President, you see that the state is passing through the most difficult situation," referring to the corruption of its prime minister and the chaos that Moussi and her party are creating within parliament to undermine its work.

"Mr President, you say that you are ready to take the appropriate steps when they are needed," Ben Amor posted, "I tell you, this is the time to use your constitutional power and make changes… Mr President, you should remember that Ben Ali was ousted when he did not take the appropriate measures when they were needed."

Following long conversations with Tunisian officials and journalists from different political walks, I expect that Saied is not going to take measures to help the Ennahda party to benefit from its existence as a major bloc in parliament. Journalist Abdul Khaliq Al-Azraq told me that Saied prefers the dissolution of the government, more than taking measures against Moussi and her party.

Meanwhile, the former Tunisian MP Imad Al-Daimi informed me that the Tunisians are afraid of Saied's "ambiguous" language when he confirmed that he had "rockets" ready to be launched, in order to return stability and end chaos in parliament and in the country, during his meeting with the parliament speaker and his deputies.

The political disagreement in the country will continue until the president finds the appropriate time to use his constitutional power and dissolve parliament. He, and other opponents of Ennahda, according to Al-Azraq, believe that the Islamist party is diminishing year after year. Democracy is still not the way to achieve freedom in the Arab and Muslim countries, but it is instead a tool to fight and persecute Islamists, and even the birthplace of the Arab Spring will fail in the test of democracy.

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

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