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Ghannouchi: Kais Saied's coup in Tunisia is becoming more isolated

Tunisia's Ennahdha Islamist party leader Rached Ghannouchi [FETHI BELAID/AFP via Getty Images]
Tunisia's Ennahdha Islamist party leader Rached Ghannouchi [FETHI BELAID/AFP via Getty Images]

The President of Tunisia's Ennahda Party, Rached Ghannouchi, expressed his conviction that the coup against the democratic path and the Constitution is merely a passing event that will end by the will of the Tunisian people.

Ghannouchi also expressed, in a frank and comprehensive interview with Middle East Monitor (MEMO) that the coup has cost Tunisians dearly in ten months, politically and economically, adding that its continuity has become a danger threatening the country. He regarded talk of a secret apparatus attributed to the Ennahda Party to be merely desperate attempts to divert the attention of Tunisians from the catastrophic results of the coup, including the stifling economic crisis.

Additionally, Ghannouchi said that talk of mobilising foreign powers against tyranny is a deception meant to evade political accountability for the country's current situation, including its political isolation and economic decline, portending famine that Tunisians cannot withstand.

He also strongly criticised the position of some regional countries and their media outlets that have been turned into a weapon against Tunisia's democracy, out of fear of its effect on the dictatorial regimes. He stressed that the democratic model and the values of justice and freedom are the ones that will eventually prevail, God willing, and that the perfidious coup of Kais will soon collapse, taking down with it his decrees like autumn leaves, while the revolution of dignity will resume its path.

At the same time, Ghannouchi commended Algeria's position regarding Tunisia, and considered that it has been the supporter of the Tunisian revolution and the Tunisian people throughout the revolution. He added that, when Tunisia's tourism declined under terrorist attacks and when European tourists stayed away, millions of Algerian brothers rushed to Tunisia to rescue it, in addition to the hundreds of millions of dollars that were given in the form of grants and loans.

On the other hand, Ghannouchi called on the Arab-Islamic world and international community, to support the Palestinian people in their struggle against occupation, pointing out that the Palestinians are not only in a struggle for their own liberation, but also for freedom and dignity on behalf of the whole Arab and Muslim world, which is an honour for the heroic people of Palestine, and a shame for the others, particularly the normalisers.

Ghannouchi further stressed that statements about the end of political Islam are simply an attempt to avoid facing the fact of the end of extremist secular currents with eradication tendencies and their dictatorial regimes.

READ: The end of the coup in Tunisia is imminent says Ghannouchi

Here is the full interview:

Q – Let us start from the end, as they say, and from the controversy surrounding Ennahda Movement's secret apparatus, in which your name has been implicated. What is it? What is the aim of opening the case?

A – What is called "the secret apparatus," is merely a media buzz meant to defame Ennahda and link it to violence, while distracting public opinion in Tunisia and around the world, from the putschist's state of suffocation, facing an ever-increasing number of opponents and growing economic difficulties. President Kais Saied is trying to divert attention in another direction, to Ennahda, associating it with violence, secret apparatuses and conspiring against the country, all of which has no relation to Ennahda Party. This slur has no relation to similar accusations made against it by former tyrants before Kais Saied; they were rejected by the independent judiciary after the revolution and will, God-willing, be rejected by any independent judiciary. They are merely fabrications for media consumption by a dying regime, to distract attention from its crisis.

The matter has, so far, not gone beyond the media level in addition to the constant pressure exerted by the coup President on the Minister of Justice which she, in turn, exerts on the judiciary to raise this outdated matter, in a compulsive persistence to associate my name, and the names of other colleagues in a matter that we have no relation to.

There is no accusation against us that is proven enough to stand in an independent court, and all we know is that the judicial case is still surrounded by a lot of mystery. We have not been informed of anything yet – not a decision or a court order, notifying us that we are banned from travelling. Thus far, this is all about media reports.

Q – Surely, initiating the case of the secret apparatus comes within a different political context; its slogan on the surface is the new republic. How do you assess the general political situation in Tunisia?

A – The political situation in the country can be summarised as follows: that we are facing a coup that is experiencing a state of political suffocation after the broadening of the opposition to it and the movement of the public against it, raising the slogan "Down with the coup, and down with the head of the coup". There is an economic situation that continues to become more stifling and getting closer to bankruptcy, if it is not there already, God forbid. This situation made the coup leaders and supporters try to divert attention towards other subjects, like Ennahda, in an attempt to satisfy the exclusionists who have not yet accepted democracy, insisting on excluding Ennahda, after they failed, time after time, to exclude it and compete with it through political means. Ennahda remains the first party according to the last fair electoral contest in 2019. They failed to compete with it through the ballot, so they are left with no other choice but to fabricate violence cases against it, thereby turning the challenge from a political matter to be dealt with politically, to a security matter, to be dealt with by the police and judiciary. They have opted for the method of exclusion instead of the principle of inclusive democratic competition at which they failed.

Q – There is a general trend of cursing the decade following the revolution and blaming it for the deterioration of the general situation in Tunisia. They direct the blame solely to Ennahda. What in your view is the responsibility of the revolution and Ennahda toward the current situation in Tunisia?

A – They are trying to divert attention from the ten months that followed the coup, which has been the worst period in the history of post-independence Tunisia. These ten months that Tunisia witnessed under the coup saw the country become threatened with famine, the employees' salaries threatened with not being paid and basic materials became unavailable in markets. Media outlets were banned, bloggers were arrested, parliamentarians were detained by the military and parties were threatened with dissolution. Worse still, Parliament's gates were blocked by tanks, and representatives of the people were stripped of their immunity and starved. The government and judicial council were dissolved, leaving the country threatened with numerous dangers.

Concerning the decade that they describe as the black decade, we do not claim that it was a prosperous one or a paradise on earth. It was a decade of democratic transition that did not achieve real economic prosperity. Yet, Tunisians experienced democracy and freedom for the first time in their history, comparable to the standards of the oldest contemporary democracies. One of its greatest constitutions was written in 2014, and against which the dictator executed his coup; the Constitution which was translated into elected, independent democratic institutions that genuinely express the principle of independence and balance of powers.  Successive elections were held in which no-one was accused of fraud, for the first time in the country's history.

In this decade, all political families and national organisations contributed, to varying degrees. We led the first two years and participated, to varying degrees, for the rest of the decade. We have the courage to take responsibility commensurate to our participation, to undertake evaluations and accept the people's judgment in the elections concerning that period. Unfortunately, many parties that contributed significantly during this decade have either disappeared from the landscape or reneged on their responsibility, blaming everything on Ennahda, which is misleading and deceptive.

Therefore, the decade was a mixture of success and failure; it was not a black decade. It was, rather, a unique decade in the history of Tunisia, a decade of freedom and democracy during which Tunisia was applauded and praised in all parliaments around the world, including the European Parliament. Tunisia was a beacon of democracy in an Arab world that was crushed by coups and civil wars.

Q – Those talking about the dark face of the revolution … are they mistaken, or conspirators against the revolution and democracy?

A –  "The black decade"- they kept repeating this lie: Those who were saddened by the Tunisians' joy with freedom, and did not feel joy when Tunisia was awarded the  Nobel Prize to celebrate its democracy, and were not happy with the Constitution of freedom, and who keep dreaming of restoring Tunisia to how it was before 2011. They keep saying there is no going back, while they are taking us back to beyond the past, to the period before the revolution and the one party era; to the police state against which the revolution rose, and even returned to the pre-independence era, the era of the Beys, and protectorate which they admired. They have taken us back to one-man rule and his blind followers, in a political form that the country never witnessed before.

This decade that they attack, opened for the Tunisians the door to freedom, and belonging to the world of democratic political modernity as an alternative to the one party system, muzzled media and rigged elections.

Q – You mentioned the Nobel Prize, and belonging to the free world – you know that this award was given to the civil society organisations which sponsored the dialogue, notably the Tunisian General Labour Union … Where are these organisations today?

A -The Tunisian General Labour Union launched a national dialogue initiative two years ago, which we welcomed, while Kais Saied insisted on rejecting it, and now he has tried to use the Union as a formal participant to decorate his pseudo-dialogue, so the organisation refused to be used as decor in Saied's fake dialogue.  Ultimately, this means that, even if we disagree in how we assessed the twenty fifth of July, we still agree with the Union on rejecting the outcome of the coup, and the dictatorship that he wanted to establish, and we both demand real dialogue, and not a made-to- measure one.

Q – It has been almost a year since Kais Saied seized power and, today, he is heading to a referendum on a constitution that has not yet been completed and preparing for the elections at the end of the year without you. What does that mean to you?

A – The usurper wants to establish his coup through a new constitution, and to found a system of masses that he dreams of, bringing back to mind the system of the Pharaoh who says, "I am your lord, the most high!", which has no relation to democratic pluralism. He was dissatisfied with the revolution's Constitution, and with the leaders that the revolution brought, so he is driven by the illusion of the foundational/grassroots system or the system of the masses, in which there are no parties, unions or civil society, rather only an inspiring president coming from another universe, tasked with saving the whole world, to broadcast his words to the people who should only listen.

We believe that the Tunisian people deserve better than that, and that the people who made the revolution of freedom and dignity are not ready to trade it for a one-man system that does not belong to our world, the world of freedom, dignity and pluralism.

Q – Some opponents of Kais Saied's policies blame the Opposition for being divided, and that its internal disputes are still bigger than its disagreement with the coup, and that this is the reason Kais Saied was able to remain in power all this time … what is dividing the Opposition?

A -The Opposition is divided by different opinions, different interests and different tendencies, but the Tunisian people are discovering today that they had been deceived by Kais Saied's promises, deceived to support and vote for a side that does not deserve their trust. Therefore, the Tunisian people are re-evaluating themselves, and the public has filled the streets in the last eight months, numerous times, proving that they reject Saied's system and his coup, and that the people are heading towards unity.

We may look at the Salvation Front, which was established by Mr. Nejib Chebbi recently, which includes 10 groups, five parties and five associations or coalitions, which form the core of a broad opposition front that is united against the coup. In return, there have been attempts to form a public opinion supporting the coup but it failed, because it was able to only gather tens of people, or hundreds, at best. This proved that we have one united public opinion, tens of thousands of people, rejecting the coup. This also means that the Tunisian people are going through a period of awakening and that they have realised the mistake they made, and the deception to which they were subjected; they are making up for that today and returning to their revolution and Constitution. The Tunisian people are living through a real economic crisis, and a state of unemployment that keeps expanding along with the price rises, together with the scarcity of many goods. The people are threatened today with famine and many other dangers – that is why they are returning to their revolution, their freedom and their leaders, realising that the economic crisis under which they are being crushed is mainly caused by Kais Saied, and the political choices that internationally isolated the government and Tunisia.

Tunisia's president Kais Saied is bleeding the country - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Tunisia's president Kais Saied is bleeding the country – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

There is also another reason behind Kais Saied's persistence. Despite the conviction of all the parties that he has not only failed to take any step towards solving the country's economic problems, as he is not concerned about them in the least, but he has further compounded the crisis by his complete rejection to lead the country to a national dialogue in which all the political and social powers and the country's elite are included; insisting on unilaterally deciding the nation's future, to the point of becoming not the leader who solves its problems, and not even part of the solution, rather the country's problem and the danger threatening it and its unity.

Yet, there are powers that see that the fall of Kais Saied will serve Ennahdha and that it will increase its strength and bring it back to the centre. We tell them, this conviction should not lead them to let the country fall and let it burn. We tell them that we understand their fears, and we are ready to have a dialogue, and to cooperate with all the parties to agree on the political and economic reforms that the country needs, and to draw the road map that will get us out of the crisis from which the country is suffering.

We are driven by our fear for our country, and not by the desire for positions and power. In the Ennahdha party, our concern is saving our country and the unity of our people, and saving our State and avoiding the strife that could destroy it. Our goal is to save our country from collapse, and not to rise to the top of the political scene and return to power. We realise that the challenges facing the country are huge, especially after the damage caused by the coup; let us engage in dialogue, let us unite our efforts to save our country before it is too late, and we are ready to offer sacrifices and to compromise to that end, as our country is more precious for us than parties and our own selves.

The persistent division and rejection of cooperation, and fear-mongering about Ennahdha's return is the most important weapon for the coup to keep on dismantling the State and its institutions, and to establish its ambiguous one-man system that is based on destroying and erasing everything that the independence State and the revolution produced, including the elites, institutions, civil and personal freedoms, civil society and parties. As for the usurper, he considers that Tunisia was astray before him, and he was sent to create a new history, in which there is no place for anyone but the leader and his blind followers, and "his people". So I call upon the people of Tunisia, to put an end to this dangerous pillage of the State and the country, before it is too late. We are more eager to see democracy restored, than to see ourselves back to power.

Q – There are some in the Opposition who put the condition that Ennahdha undertakes a self evaluation first … do you think this condition is justifiable?

A – Surely, to return to the right path, is better than persistence in wrong. Anyone who believes they are always right and that they represent the ultimate truth, they are undoubtedly wrong. As every human is fallible – and the same is true for political groups – it is important to self-evaluate, every now and then. We are not against the divine laws of Nature, which makes it inevitable for humans to make mistakes, and in which repentance is required, along with seeking forgiveness. Self-accountability should also come before holding others accountable, so we are not against this rule, as we are already in the process of re-evaluating our policies, and the biggest mistake we have made is certainly putting our trust in someone that does not deserve it … we trusted Kais Saied, while he did not deserve it, and we have made other mistakes which we are reviewing. Others have their own mistakes, as well. Anyone who sees themselves as being above criticism and being infallible, and in no need of accountability, is undoubtedly mistaken, and wronging themselves, as well as others.

Q – Internally, what did your dialogues reach with the resigned leaders and with those whose membership was suspended in the consultative Shura Council, and what about the party's 11th conference?

A – Indeed, there are constant dialogues within Ennahdha, within the Shura Council and outside the Council. We are looking to reach consensus against the imminent danger, the danger of dictatorship threatening the country, and the danger of famine. The country needs unity, and needs broad consensus that does not exclude anyone, unless they exclude themselves. Therefore, we call for dialogue, while Kais Saied is the one who refused to hold dialogue with parties and the civil society organisations, including the UGTT, which has called for the dialogue, as did Ennahdha. Yet, the putschist President persistently considers himself beyond criticism, and that he is the spokesman for the truth, refusing all forms of compromise and dialogue.

As for those who resigned from Ennahdha, we still agree with them on the position on national causes, most importantly on opposing the coup and restoring freedom. There is the National Salvation Front, which gathers us with those who resigned recently from Ennahdha, to face a common national threat, and to struggle to restore democracy.

We have not severed ties with anyone who wants good for Tunisia, and wants to re-establish democracy and resist against the coup and against dictatorship.

Concerning the Party's 11th conference, we have not stopped preparing for it; we are currently looking for suitable circumstances to hold it, and the decision is to be taken by the Shura Council.

Q – It became common for the President and his supporters to accuse you of seeking help from foreign powers … What is the truth of this accusation, first? And how do you assess the foreign position regarding the ongoing events in Tunisia since the coup?

A – We are a Tunisian national party, and the accusation of mobilising foreign powers are baseless allegations, repeated by unfair political rivals. Tunisia is a part of the world; it negotiates with the international organisations and with the International Monetary Fund. It is also a partner with Europe, and no one is calling for isolating Tunisia from the external world, on the condition that it does not come at the expense of our national sovereignty, and the independence of our decision.

Those who harmed Tunisia and weakened its position, its negotiating power and its soft power, are those who undertook a coup against the revolution, and sought help from foreign putschist powers that never had any positive relation with democracy, nor with the revolution. The parties that interfere in Tunisian affairs to support the counter-revolution and the coup are clear, their media outlets are clear …

On the other hand, the democratic world supports democracy and restoring it in Tunisia. Therefore, it has issued many statements against the coup, such as the ones by the European Parliament, the American Congress and others, including democratic political force and media, not for the sake of Ennahdha, but rather in defence of their own values and interests. However, this support was not in the form of foreign military force, thank God; there are no foreign armies deployed in Tunisia to support democracy, and no one asked for military interference in Tunisia. The reality is that there are democratic political powers in the world that support democracy in Tunisia by their positions, and there are dictatorial putschist powers in the world that support the coup in Tunisia through their media and more.

Q – Who are you alluding to by "the countries supporting the coup"?

A – I mean those who see in Tunisia and its democratic model a danger threatening them, driven by the fear that their oppressed people would follow the Tunisian model, so they opted for extinguishing our candle, instead of walking under its light. Authoritarian powers in the region are afraid of Tunisian democracy, so they wage a clear media war against it. There are Gulf media channels targeting Tunisia to demonise democracy and push for its collapse, and support the putschists … and there are others working against these.

Q – You personally played an important role in establishing distinguished relations with Algeria. And it is a known fact that you have close relations with Algerian politicians. You have also stood by the side of Algeria's stability on many occasions. How do you view Algeria's position regarding the ongoing events in Tunisia?

A – I consider the official Algerian position towards what is happening in Tunisia a positive one. Algeria supported the Tunisian revolution and greatly supported its economy during times of crisis, especially during 2015 and 2016, when Tunisia sustained severe terrorist attacks which almost destroyed a pillar of its economy, which is tourism. Back then, the Algerian government and its people supported Tunisia, as millions of our Algerian brothers rushed to the rescue, by coming to Tunisia and saving the tourist season, while European tourists fled away. Algeria's support was also in the form of grants and loans to support the Tunisian budget. We have great appreciation and respect for our Algerian brothers, the people, President and government.

Q – What occurred to you in Tunisia, in Egypt and the rest of the Arab Spring countries, opened a discussion about the failure of political Islam and its end … is this conclusion true?

A -There's an old verse of poetry that says: "Al-Farazdaq is claiming he will kill Al-Marabaa. O Murabaa, rejoice, for you will live long."  We have heard "glad tidings" of the end of what is known as political Islam for too long, but it looks like  political Islam "has more than seven lives"… whenever one is lost, another one takes its place.

Facts bear witness that what will come to an end is not "political Islam", but rather extremist, eradicationist, secularist authoritarian regimes – and I do not say secularism, in general, but extremist, eradicationist secularisms are dying out in the Arab world, and can only rise to power through coups. In contrast, "political" Islam has proven, more than once, that it can retreat, only to rise once again, because it is rooted in our people and well-established. Therefore, it can decline or lose power in an electoral competition, but it will rapidly return, as it is deeply rooted. While those who lose and return only through coups, they are known, and Islamists are not among them.

Q – You were one of the notable Islamic leaders who called for participating in the democratic system and cooperation with the international community to establish stability. Do you still believe in that after the Arab Spring experience?

A – Indeed, the Arab Spring confirmed the Islamists' democracy, and the world came to realise that the existence of freedom is the only condition for Islamists to rise to power. Whenever there is freedom, there is democratic Islam, or correct Islam. Islam in its extremist, terrorist form will disappear when corruption and instability disappear. Moderate, tolerant, democratic Islam will never disappear. It may decline for some time, but it would soon rise again, because our people are well-grounded and committed to their Islam, their democracy and their longing for freedom.

Q – You must have followed, and are still following, what happened in Palestine and the conflicts there during and after Ramadan, and the assassination of the Al Jazeera journalist. How do see you the current situation and the future of the Palestinian cause?

A – The Muslim world's heart is in Palestine, and it is not united upon anything as much as it is united upon the Palestinian cause, and the rejection of oppression forced on this authentic heroic people. These people are fighting for their honor, their religion, their civilisation and dignity, against the last, the most vicious and most brutal remnants of colonialism; rather, it is in the front line to defend Muslims and all free humans. We are in pain and sorrow, because we cannot offer the aid that should be given to the Palestinian people. We call upon all the free people of the world, and all good people to stand with the Palestinian heroic people. Unfortunately, there is an Arab, Muslim and a human failure in fulfilling our duty towards these brave people. We are full of admiration for the Palestinian young men and women, and the Muslims and Christians there; including the icon who died for media freedom, the famous journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh. May Allah have mercy on her soul. The Palestinian people have proved that they are a great people, and the protectors of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the sacred Jerusalem, and it is the nation's duty to stand with them until they regain Al-Aqsa, Jerusalem and their occupied land.

Q – Finally, what is your message to Tunisians, and to Arab and western democrats?

A – We are full of certainty and conviction that Tunisian democracy is not a passing event, and that the Tunisian revolution was not a coincidence, nor the Constitution. While we believe that the dictatorship that the usurper is seeking to establish is the passing event, it is the illusion that deceived the Tunisians that they are starting to wake up from.

We believe that the struggle in Tunisia and the world is not between Islamists and seculars; it is rather between free democrats and eradicationists seeking to control and dominate people. This is Tunisia's struggle and the world's struggle between free forces defending free, dignified humans, and oppressive forces, seeking oppression, driven by the illusion of being above the people and of having the right to dominate them under fake slogans.

Therefore, we believe that the future is for freedom, democracy, democratic Islam, social justice for the poor and the needy and their right to freedom and dignity; to contribute to the future of their country and enjoy its wealth.

Our belief is deep in the values ​​of justice and freedom and that they are inherent values ​​in the structure of this world, while authoritarianism, dictatorship and injustice are deviations that have no future. My call to the whole world is to look at Islam as an essential component of this world, a partner in its policies and another carrier of authentic values: justice, freedom, dignity and beauty.

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