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Ennahda is in the eye of the Tunisian storm

August 24, 2021 at 5:02 pm

A supporter waves a flag of the Tunisian Islamist Ennahda Party on October 24, 2014 in Habib Bourguiba Avenue in the capital Tunis [FADEL SENNA/AFP via Getty Images]

It is fair to say that, ten years after their revolution, Tunisians have failed to manage their differences properly, despite the considerable freedoms they enjoy and despite having an elite known for its depth, diversity, and boldness. Anyone looking at what is being written and said about Tunisia will be shocked, suspicious, and confused about the fate of the country that has long been searching for a way to ensure stability, transparency, and peaceful coexistence between its governing elite and its citizens.

If you take a closer look at the accusations made on social media, especially Facebook, you will realise the severe deterioration in the ability to have an open dialogue. Everyone is against everyone else, condemning each other in the filthiest of terms.

Tunisians are no different from anyone else in being quick to resort to insults, using sexual and pejorative terms against women and men alike. They often rush to profanity to express their anger, which makes the ongoing domestic conflicts lack seriousness and devoid of any deep meaning. In short, dialogue has been dismantled. At some point, discussions turn inevitably into threats to use heavy weapons to expel opposition groups from the country or liquidate them if necessary.

This dangerous phenomenon has deep and historical causes. What has made it worse, though, is the arrogance of the elite and their inability to engage in a dialogue calmly and deeply, and refrain from stepping over the red line in terms of mutual respect.

READ: Tunisia president says ‘there is no turning back’

When the country shifted from dictatorship to pluralism, the political elites moved forward and began to show what they had, but they soon shocked Tunisians with their lack of resourcefulness, their willingness to banish and despise their critics, and to accuse them of opportunism, banditry, and ignorance. The most dangerous decision taken after the revolution was to allow state television to broadcast the plenary sessions of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) and then the Assembly of the People’s Representatives. Although intended to promote political transparency and allow the public to follow up on issues affecting them and their country, people were instead witnessed to regular cockfights. Assembly members sought to prevent each other from speaking, turning parliament into an unedifying circus.

It does not matter, in this context, who is responsible for tarnishing parliament in this way and delivering a blow to representative democracy. What matters is the outcome, because it made the democratic transition hopeless, with Tunisians on the point of no return and very close to violence.

The national interest requires a collective response to this dangerous slide into civil war; keeping the peace must be a priority. I am not exaggerating. It is an appeal for the common good to prevail in the face of Tunisia being at risk of falling into the abyss.

When President Kais Saied speaks for the third time about a plot to assassinate him, one cannot take the matter lightly. When this plan is linked to those who take Islam as a reference, the danger is two-fold and definite, even if sources close to the security services have confirmed that a “lone wolf” extremist has been arrested in this respect and is being interrogated. This is at a time when the Libyan Minister of the Interior has denied that a hundred terrorists have infiltrated Tunisia, contrary to information provided by Tunisian police.

Is Tunisia slipping into a dangerous pitfall?- Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Is Tunisia slipping into a dangerous pitfall?- Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

All of this suggests that there is a scenario being cooked up in a very hot oven. Ennahda movement has realised that it is the focus of the escalation, which has prompted a detailed public statement.

“The state security and judicial agencies must take all necessary measures to uncover these plots so that those responsible can be identified, in order to reassure the general public and strengthen Tunisia’s national security,” said Ennahda. “[Our approach] is based on adherence to the laws of the Tunisian state, operating within its framework, respecting its institutions, adopting political dialogue as the only method to resolve disputes, and working to prevent what could slide the country into violence and chaos.”

Driven by the fear of a sweeping setback that would carry a high price, Ennahda did not stop there but rather stressed in another statement the need to keep the political discourse away from mobilisation and incitement. “Respect the prestige of state institutions, most notably the Presidency of the Republic,” it pleaded as it denounced “some parties’ attack on the President of the Republic, Kais Saied, and his family.”

READ: Ghannouchi dismisses members of party’s executive office

The movement also affirmed its readiness to “take disciplinary measures against any of its affiliates who prove to be involved in offending anyone via their social media posts and deviating from the ethics of political speech.” This angered some Ennahda members, and some of its officials repudiated the statement and said that it “does not represent” them.

The situation is very dangerous and tense, as many parties are pushing for a complete and radical settlement of old scores with Ennahda, and there is no longer any doubt that Saied considers the Islamists to be his greatest enemy, given that he promised to launch more missiles to destroy them. Will Ennahda’s Rached Ghannouchi be able to save the movement from a new storm in which it is at the centre? This is an important question as we wait for President Saied to make more announcements, and insults and allegations continue to be traded at a steady pace.

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