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Power struggle triggers more political turmoil in Tunisia

Tunisian Prime Minister Hichem Michichi (L) and Tunisian Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi (R) in Tunisia on 26 January 2021 [Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency]
Tunisian Prime Minister Hichem Michichi (L) and Tunisian Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi (R) in Tunisia on 26 January 2021 [Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency]

A power struggle has resurfaced in Tunisia casting a shadow over the rupture between President Kais Saied, Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, and Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of Ennahda movement and Speaker of the People's Assembly, Arabic Post has reported.

The conflict began when Saied refused to swear the oath of office with newly-appointed ministers following a government reshuffle. According to private sources, Saied refused to receive Sami Abu Zuhri, the official spokesman of Hamas, who visited Tunisia a few days ago and met with Ghannouchi before asking to meet the head of state. Saied viewed Abu Zuhri's meeting with the Ennahda leader as an affront and violation of diplomatic convention.

With Mechichi and Ghannouchi both making overseas trips in recent weeks, Saied is keen to let them know that he is in charge of Tunisia's foreign relations portfolio, and any diplomacy must be coordinated with the presidency. Mechichi visited Libya with a number of ministers and businessmen, while Ghannouchi went to Qatar.

"Ghannouchi is trying to take over the president's diplomatic jurisdictions," claimed political analyst Mokhtar Kammoun, "although his moves in this regard have diminished recently with the aim of easing tensions, in anticipation of a deal that seems to be slowly brewing."

Kammoun added that the trip to Qatar was at the invitation of the government in Doha, which seeks to reach an agreement between the conflicting parties in Tunisia, similar to the consensus achieved between the late President Beji Caid Essebsi and Ghannouchi. He pointed out that the Qataris told Mechichi the same that they had already told Ghannouchi; that they are ready to help, but only if a solution is reached with Saied whose position has been strengthened abroad, especially after the major regional shifts and the breakthrough in the dispute between the Gulf States and Egypt, on the one hand, and Turkey and Qatar on the other."

READ: Tunisia president warns against danger of fragmenting state from within

However, Ennahda MP Jamila Ksiksi explained to Arabic Post that, "The visit to Qatar was made on Ennahda's behalf with the objective of ensuring Qatar's support for Tunisia and not to challenge the president's powers."

Mechichi, meanwhile, is visiting Arab countries to attract foreign investment in Tunisia. This would allow him to use state resources to tackle the economic difficulties it faces. Not everyone is pleased, though.

"Mechichi is trying to cover up his political failure and prove that he is making progress by seeking financial support for the state budget," alleged Abdel Razzaq Oueidat of the Democratic Bloc. "The objective of his trips abroad is to relieve the pressure on him and his government, including the president's insistence that he should resign."

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