Ennahda: Earlier than and After the Coup in Tunisia

A Dialog with Andrew F. March

Organized and edited by David Siddhartha Patel

July 8, 2022

After the Jasmine Revolution of 2011, the Islamist motion Ennahda reemerged in Tunisia and incessantly has been the most important occasion in parliament and kingmaker in coalition governments. Consequently, it has borne the brunt of many Tunisians’ rising disenchantment with their post-revolutionary political system. Since President Kais Saied’s energy seize in July 2021 and subsequent dissolution of parliament, Ennahda and its chief, Rached Ghannouchi, have tried to oppose the coup with out triggering a violent crackdown by the state or alienating allies and occasion members. Nonetheless, within the lead-up to a nationwide referendum scheduled for July 25 to approve a brand new draft structure, Tunisian courts imposed a journey ban on Ghannouchi and froze varied Ennahda leaders’ financial institution accounts. On this Crown Dialog, the third in a sequence on Tunisia, we spoke with Andrew F. March—professor of political science on the College of Massachusetts Amherst and beforehand the Goldman School Depart Fellow on the Crown Heart from 2020-2021 who has interviewed Ghannouchi extensively and is co-writing a e book with him—concerning the historical past of Ennahda, the way it has responded to Saied’s actions, and the place the motion goes from right here.

Ennahda is usually described because the “most reasonable” of the mainstream Islamist actions within the Arab world, and the continued centrality of co-founder Rached Ghannouchi is often offered as the first motive. Are you able to say one thing about how Ennahda compares to different Islamist actions, notably the Muslim Brotherhood, and Ghannouchi’s position?

Ennahda was initially fashioned in 1981 because the Motion of Islamic Tendency (MTI). Whereas it was based as a motion within the custom of different trendy Islamist events or organizations, such because the Muslim Brotherhood, it was distinct in quite a lot of vital methods. First, the ideological inspiration behind the motion was extra numerous than that of different Islamist teams. Whereas MTI leaders like Ghannouchi and others had been steeped within the considered Islamist ideologues like Hassan al-Banna, Abul A’la Mawdudi and Sayyid Qutb, they had been additionally influenced by figures such because the Algerian historian and thinker Malek Bennabi who provided a much wider and fewer dogmatic perspective on points like democracy and civilization. Second, from their founding declaration in 1981, the MTI overtly endorsed multi-party democracy as the trail out of authoritarianism. Third, the ideology and observe of the motion was developed partly in response to broader occasions in Tunisia outdoors of Islamist circles, notably the secular democratic opposition to Habib Bourguiba and leftist protests within the late-Seventies and early-Eighties.

The MTI bore the brunt of a state crackdown after 1981, with 1000’s of members (together with its prime management) serving multi-year jail stints. But, in the course of the temporary thaw after the 1987 coup that introduced Zein El Abidine Ben Ali to energy, the motion renamed itself the Ennahda [Renaissance] Occasion, sought authorized recognition, and competed in native elections in 1988. Their success in these native elections provoked a second main crackdown, which resulted in Ghannouchi and different leaders fleeing into exile from 1989.

One other main distinction with the Brotherhood and different Islamist actions is Ennahda’s inside tradition and group. Ennahda is ruled in accordance with a public constitution by which representatives are elected to a common convention, which then elects a number of the members of the Shura Council (different members are appointed) that, in flip, varieties a smaller Political Bureau. The interior tradition of the occasion, whereas not with out its hierarchical parts, is thus way more inclined towards broad and public deliberation and contestation than teams just like the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. However I ought to word that another Islamist events—similar to these in Kuwait, Jordan, or Morocco—could also be nearer to the Tunisian mannequin than the Egyptian one, which in fact should even be attributed to the repressive circumstances in Egypt because the Nineteen Sixties.

Because the Tunisian Revolution of 2011, some points inside to the occasion—which it has needed to face throughout the context of sharing energy with different events—may be characterised as a query of “moderation” versus “conservatism,” however a lot falls outdoors of this dichotomy. In the course of the post-revolution transition interval, the query of how exhausting to battle for a clause within the structure to declare the shariʿa a supply of or constraint on laws (which Ennahda ultimately dropped, with Ghannouchi’s help) was maybe one such problem. Towards the tip of President Beji Caid Essebi’s rule (he died in workplace in July 2019), the difficulty of how to answer the inheritance equality invoice was maybe one other. However lots of the most contentious points, each inside Ennahda and with different political forces, can not simply be categorised when it comes to “moderation” or extra conservative Islamism. Ghannouchi usually pushed a really pragmatic path with regard to coping with figures of the outdated regime and problems with political and financial reconciliation. He judged that it was higher to keep away from giving probably counter-revolutionary figures a motivation or an excuse to undermine or reverse the democratic transition, which is in fact what occurred on July 25, 2021 by the hands of a not possible determine. In different phrases, these should not “ideological” points inside Islam however problems with political judgment.

Some supporters of Saied’s strikes describe them as a individuals’s revolt towards the incompetent, corrupt, and divisive post-revolution governments led or influenced by Ennahda. Ghannouchi allegedly has mentioned that: “The issue of the Islamists is that they’re appreciated in opposition and hated as quickly as they’re in energy.” What does he imply right here? What particular challenges does Ghannouchi see Islamists in energy as dealing with?

Whereas Ennahda and Ghannouchi personally are largely regarded favorably within the West as “reasonable Islamists” who’re dedicated to democratic establishments, in Tunisia there’s a widespread aversion, bordering on hatred, for the occasion amongst broad swathes of the inhabitants, notably ideologically dedicated secularists and plenty of in Tunisia’s highly effective commerce union motion (The Tunisian Normal Labor Union, or UGTT). You possibly can see this aversion in two methods. First, the occasion’s goals and beliefs are incessantly described by opponents in shockingly exaggerated phrases. Many Tunisians will painting them as having goals barely distinguishable from extra radical teams elsewhere, such because the Afghan Taliban and different teams who name for the wholesale utility of shariʿa. Second, Ennahda seems to obtain a disproportionate quantity of focused blame for the final malaise of parliamentary governance in Tunisia, which failed badly at delivering the tangible advantages hoped for from the 2011 Revolution. After the dissolution of the transitional authorities within the wake of a political disaster in 2013, Ennahda by no means supplied the prime minster for the numerous coalition governments that ruled between 2014 and 2021. As both the most important (2019-) or the second largest (2014-2019) occasion in parliament, the occasion was indispensable for forming governments. However any energy held by Ennahda was all the time wielded in coalition and partnership with different events or by means of behind-the-scenes relationships, like that between President Essebsi and Ghannouchi. In truth, Ennahda was all the time vastly underrepresented in these governments, a minimum of as measured by ministerial portfolios.

What Ghannouchi is referring to, I imagine, is a way that Ennahda is overly criticized for regular political practices (e.g., leveraging electoral benefit, pursuing institutional energy) and blamed for the actions of others, such because the assassination of two leftist figures in 2013 by radical jihadi teams. Such blame blurs or erases the stark boundaries between the institution Ennahda and radical teams within the nation. Equally, in the course of the protests main as much as Saied’s coup on July 25, 2021 and its standard reception afterwards, Ennahda appeared to function the face for a lot of the corruption and inefficacy of governments led by different events. It’s not a stretch to say that whereas Ennahda deserves their share of the blame for the malaise of post-2011 parliamentary governance, that is compounded with extra emotional and visceral antipathy for the occasion from a lot of quarters, particularly widespread secularist rejection of the concept of even a post-Islamist “Muslim democratic” occasion within the political system.

It’s also vital to do not forget that Ennahda is the one occasion that has been incessantly threatened with dissolution and proscription by different events. Whereas different events have paid the electoral penalties for his or her efficiency in authorities or their inside contradictions, solely Ennahda is confronted continuously with a problem to its very legitimacy and legality as a democratic political occasion.

How has Ennahda responded to the occasions of July 25, 2021 and subsequent developments?

Ennahda has responded cautiously to the July 25 coup, conscious that Saied, who’s backed by the navy, may use any provocation to justify a broader crackdown (which he incessantly threatens as it’s). Ennahda can be conscious that Saied and his anti-democratic strikes stay broadly standard amongst Tunisians, actually extra standard than the dissolved parliament and even the concept of democratic governance itself.

Ennahda has responded to the coup and Saied’s reputation, predictably, by allying with a broad anti-coup coalition, culminating within the formation in April 2022 of a so-called Nationwide Salvation Entrance that brings collectively 5 events from the dissolved parliament and quite a few civil society teams. Whereas it’s clear that Ennahda supporters are sometimes the most important group amongst anti-coup protesters, probably the most seen figures within the anti-coup motion are from secular and leftist civil society organizations.

There are two worst case outcomes for Ghannouchi and Ennahda. The primary is, in fact, a complete crackdown and imprisonment of opposition figures, particularly these from Ennahda. This may occasionally not find yourself being as bloody and wide-reaching as in Egypt in 2013, however it might be a devastating coda to the Tunisian democratic transition that started in 2011. The opposite worst case final result from Ennahda’s perspective is that Saied peels off different forces within the former parliament and anti-coup motion by placing a deal that primarily excludes Ennahda from the political course of. This might take the type of a constitutional provision that bans events with a spiritual id, or one thing to that impact. Saied has already proven indicators of draping his coup in Bourguibist secularist rhetoric, publicly disavowing fasting throughout Ramadan and leaving out of his draft structure a phrase from Article 1 of the prevailing structure that declares Islam to be the state faith.

So, not like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 2013, Ennahda advantages from the truth that Saied’s coup was not directed at a single occasion however, as a substitute, on the whole democratic system. You will need to do not forget that Ennahda held barely 25% of the seats within the parliament after 2019. Many different events and forces see their important pursuits as being threatened by this coup. However, a lot of these entities could also be proud of some sort of restored political system—one actually extra presidentialist than earlier than the coup—by which Ennahda is basically excluded from politics. Thus, Ghannouchi and his occasion are strolling a slender path of each avoiding a political response to the coup that would supply straightforward justification for a broader crackdown and sustaining unity of goal with non-Islamist events that haven’t any love for Ennahda.

Ennahda’s most up-to-date response is to show away from the first demand of restoring the parliament because it was constituted as of July 25, 2021 and, as a substitute, name for a “nationwide dialogue” by means of the newly fashioned Nationwide Salvation Entrance, formally headed by established social democratic opposition determine Ahmed Najib Chebbi. Chebbi has declared that the alliance doesn’t search a restoration of the parliament of July 2021, however that it might stay “dedicated to the legislative establishments and organizing early elections.”

There have been information reviews of rising tensions inside Ennahda because the occasions of July 2021. What has occurred internally throughout the occasion over the previous 12 months? Is Ghannouchi dropping affect?

There was a big exodus of 113 senior Ennahda members final September, led by former Well being Minister Abdellatif Mekki. The group blamed Ghannouchi and Ennahda for failing to kind a typical entrance to oppose Saied’s coup, though it’s not clear what extra may have been finished within the local weather instantly after the coup, and the group’s official public statements had been extraordinarily obscure on what they are saying ought to have been finished. Nonetheless, these inside Ennahda tensions had been constructing for a very long time previous to July 2021. On the 2016 Occasion Congress, for instance, there was an effort to alter the motion’s constitution in order that Ghannouchi would henceforth solely nominate half of the Government Bureau, with the opposite half of the Bureau chosen by the Shura Council after inside occasion elections. Tensions elevated additional in 2019 when the Government Bureau (nonetheless underneath Ghannouchi’s management) changed the heads of 30 of the 33 lists for parliamentary elections and put in Ghannouchi on the prime of one of many lists (he had not beforehand run for parliament). Among the changed figures had been vital leaders of the motion courting again to the Eighties and the years of harsh state repression. On the time, these strikes led some activists to take a position that Ghannouchi was trying to sideline rivals who had unbiased bases of help. In September 2020, 100 senior members signed a letter demanding that he not run for occasion president once more. Ghannouchi rebuffed these challenges—and he did so on a questionable authorized foundation when it comes to Ennahda’s governing constitution—elevating some accusations that his conduct inside his personal occasion is authoritarian.

It needs to be famous that these divides relate principally to Ennahda’s inside governance constructions and guidelines, not its ideology. A separate story may be advised concerning the rise of the Karama Coalition—which ran to Ennahda’s Islamist proper in 2019—comprised principally of politicized Salafis and a few disillusioned Ennahda activists. Karama received 21 seats (based mostly on 5.94% of the favored vote) within the 2019 Parliament, sufficient to make it the fourth largest occasion within the Tunisian Parliament.

In January 2022, Saied outlined a roadmap for the nation for the remainder of the 12 months: kind a committee to rewrite the structure; maintain a referendum on July 25 to approve it; and maintain parliamentary elections on December 17. Saied has locked Ennahda out of the envisioned nationwide dialogue as one of many events of “traitors and thieves.” You recognize Ghannouchi’s writings and have had in depth conversations with him about his ideology. Does Ghannouchi’s corpus present any sense of the place he thinks Tunisia goes from right here?

Ghannouchi is a savvy and affected person politician. His political judgment and inclinations are a considerably totally different matter from his corpus of political and theoretical writings. In the mean time, the nationwide referendum on Saied’s draft structure has not but been held and phrases for participation within the deliberate December elections haven’t been revealed. Ghannouchi and different Ennahda leaders are actually ready first to see what the president is proposing. The worst-case state of affairs for them is that the occasion (and probably Karama) are proscribed and membership in them made unlawful. Virtually as unhealthy can be a measure falling wanting proscription however which might search to ban them from entry into the brand new system. Equally vital is what Saied’s plans are for different, secular, opposition events. It will decide whether or not Ghannouchi thinks that Ennahda stands alone or can hold drawing on a broader anti-coup alliance.

All through the turbulent decade after the Revolution, there seems to be one single fixed in Ghannouchi’s conduct: He advocates what he thinks is most expedient at any given crossroads for the survival of Ennahda and the liberty of its management and activists. Ennahda paid a substantial reputational and electoral price for a lot of of its extra conciliatory strikes over that decade: It received 37% of the vote and 89 seats within the 2011 elections, 27.8% and 69 seats in 2014, and 19.6% and 52 seats in 2019. However as of 2021, Ghannouchi would absolutely argue that not solely had Ennahda remained standing and at liberty but additionally that it remained the most important parliamentary bloc (regardless of its continued lack of seats) and an indispensable kingmaker for any coalition authorities. Thus, what Ghannouchi and Ennahda do now will certainly rely upon Saied’s subsequent steps. However I might wager that the motion would do nearly every thing it could possibly to keep away from a violent response on their very own half to state repression. Even wide-scale civil disobedience or a common strike, with Ennahda out by itself, is to me not possible. Whereas Ghannouchi would absolutely like to finish his storied political profession having navigated Ennahda by means of this disaster and again into inclusion within the political system and acceptance by different forces (such because the UGTT and secular political events), I imagine that he would do something to keep away from giving different events and state establishments the satisfaction of getting revealed Ennahda to be a violent or “terrorist” group in any case. My guess is that he’ll keep away from confrontations that might give the state an excuse to escalate repression, even when this implies he ends his profession in home arrest—and even jail—hoping that the motion lives to resurface one other day.

For extra Crown Heart publications on the evolution of Tunisian politics within the aftermath of the Jasmine Revolution, see: “Tunisia’s Democracy Unsettled,” “The Tunisian Public and the Rise of Kais Saied,” “Classes from the Jasmine and Nile Revolutions: Potentialities of Political Transformation within the Center East?” “Drivers of Democracy: Classes from Tunisia,” “Islam and Democracy in Follow: Tunisia’s Ennahdha 9 Months In,” and “Why Did Ladies’s Rights Broaden in Submit-Revolutionary Tunisia?”  

The opinions and findings expressed on this Dialog belong to the creator completely and don’t mirror these of the Crown Heart or Brandeis College.