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What’s next for Tunisia after release of Ennahda official?

Noureddine Bhiri has been released after being detained for more than two months

March 9, 2022 at 2:49 pm

The recent release of the deputy chief of Ennahda party, Noureddine Bhiri, by Tunisian authorities has sparked a debate about the future of the political crisis in the North African country, Anadolu News Agency reports.

Bhiri was released on Monday evening, after being under house arrest since 31 December 2021 over “terror” accusations related to the illegal issuing of passports and travel documents to a Syrian national and his wife. Former Interior Ministry official, Fathi Al-Baladi, who was detained on similar charges, was also released.

Bhiri’s release was hailed by Ennahda leader, Rached Ghannouchi as “a new start” for the country.

“It is a historic moment,” Ghannouchi told Anadolu Agency on Tuesday, while visiting Bhiri at his house in Bizerte province, describing the official’s release as if he “returned to us from another world.”

The Interior Ministry said the two officials were released to allow the judiciary to “complete the necessary investigations and judicial procedures.”

Tunisia has been in the throes of a political crisis since last July, when President Kais Saied dismissed the government, suspended parliament and assumed executive authority amid mounting public anger over economic stagnation and political paralysis.

While Saied insists that his “exceptional measures” were meant to “save” the country, critics have accused him of orchestrating a coup.

Win for Ennahda

Political analyst Salah Al-Din Al-Jorshi believes that the Tunisian authorities had no option but to release Bhiri.

“Lack of evidence regarding the allegations filed against Bhiri, his hunger strike and calls for his release by international human rights organisations have compelled the authorities to release him,” al-Jorshi told Anadolu Agency.

The analyst argues that Bhiri’s release serves the interest of Ennahda party.

“Ennahda party will use el-Bhiri’s release as a new card to change the prevailing popular ideas against the group regarding accusations attributed to it of terrorism, corruption and abuse of power,” he said.

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Political analyst, Tariq Al-Kahlawi considers Bhiri’s release as a move by President Saied to support his claims that the judiciary has been under the influence of Ennahda party.

“The decision to release Bhiri comes after the swearing-in of the members of the Interim Supreme Judicial Council on Monday,” he said.

However, Al-Jorshi sees no link between the appointment of the new judicial council and the release of the Ennahda official, arguing that it is the Interior Ministry that placed him under house arrest, not the judiciary.

Chance for dialogue

In response to Ghannouchi’s comments that Bhiri’s release marks “a new start” for the country, Al-Jorshi believes the Ennahda leader made an indirect invitation to dialogue with Saied.

“Ghannouchi considers the decision to release [Bhiri] a positive step, and believes that it should be a prelude to dialogue with the presidency, based on trust,” al-Jorshi said.

Al-Kahlawi agrees that Ghannouchi “aspires to establish a dialogue with President Saied”, noting that calls for dialogue are already gaining momentum with the General Labour Union – the country’s largest labour union – extending invitations to various political actors to engage in dialogue with the President.”

He expects the Tunisian leader to deliver a speech in the coming days to state his political, social and economic programme.

“After Saied’s expected speech, positions will be determined,” Al-Kahlawi said. “Either a new escalation (of the crisis) or responding to the demands for national dialogue.”

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