Last week started with Ennahda president Rashed al-Ghannoushi being interviewed Sunday evening (25th of August) on Nessma TV. It is important to understand that since the revolution there has been tension between Nessma TV and politicians of Ennahda. The latter accusing the first of “lacking neutrality” for example.  I have written about that in a previous post.

Nessma TV is one of the most popular Tunisian TV channels – if not the most – and is considered to be “leftist/oppositionist” by pro-government supporters. It was the first time that Ghannoushi agreed to be interviewed (for over an hour) by Nessma TV. Which led to many speculations, why Nessma TV? And why now? An explanation that could be close to the truth is that Ennahda tried to reach out to Tunisians that sympathize with the opposition (and this voice can often be heard on Nessma TV). Others mentioned that a week before the interview Ghannoushi met (biggest oppositionist leader) al-Sebsi from Call of Tunisia (Nidaa Tounes) in Paris, which was partly initiated by Nessma TV owner Karaoui who is considered to be close to politicians of Call of Tunisia.

Ennahda and the Egyptian Muslim Broterhood, what lessons to take?

ghannoushi nessma tv                                             Rashed al-Ghannoushi on Nessma TV.

Ghannoushi, leader of the ruling Nahda-party, mentioned in the interview the following things that are relevant to the current crisis:

–          The government should be held to account for the success or failure in the country’s transition to a democracy.

–          Failure of the government is a game-play of the opposition because Tunisia is currently in a transition phase. National security or economy should not be compared to European countries.

–          Resignation of the government will delay everything whereas now it all should be done to finish the current period as soon as possible and have elections.

–          Ennahda accepts the resignation of the government once elections (and an election law) have been prepared and the new constitution is finished.

–          Ennahda considers the Labour union’s initiative (to solve the crisis and come to a solution) to be the right place where negotiations take place.

–          Ennahda considers “having won the elections by 51%” not enough to govern alone (referring to Egypt and the perceived mistake of the Muslim Brotherhood). Governing should be done through national consensus, as was done when the current Troika-government was formed.

–          Ennahda accepted to deal and negotiate with (main oppositionist party) Call of Tunisia, although they were not yet formed at previous elections.

–          Ghannoushi confirmed that among Nahda-members and supporters there are some fears that in a future scenario, when they lose power to the opposition, the same could happen to them as happened to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt; imprisoned again and forbidden to practice politics.

–          The current crisis in Tunisia and tension should be solved as soon as possible, otherwise Tunisia might fall victim to the Egyptian scenario: civil war, bloodshed and failure to become a democracy.

–          To all Tunisians; Tunisia has a historic opportunity to succeed in its transition to a democracy and be the first Arab democracy. Nevertheless there are also (some) people aiming to create chaos and unrest in the country.

–          Because there is among political parties and politicians a huge lack of trust the only solution is to sit together and talk.

–          The biggest parties in Tunisia, Ennahda and Call of Tunisia (Nidaa Tounes), have met in Paris last week and made a start in normalizing their relationship.

–          Ennahda dropped their insistence to pass a law in parliament that should ban anyone who has served previously as a minister or official for the Ben Ali regime.

–          Any threat to national security is a red line.

–          The state is not responsible to interfere in someone’s private life; it is responsible for upholding the law, safeguarding security and creating jobs.

There is a big possibility that after last week’s meeting in Paris Ghannoushi and al-Sebsi agreed to both address Tunisians through an interview on Nessma TV and try to cool things down. Ghannoushi tried to take doubts away by mentioning explicitly that the Egyptian scenario should be avoided at all costs. Indirectly he mentioned that “Ennahda differs from the Muslim Brotherhood” and gave several arguments for that, one of them being that Nahda (in contrast to their Egyptian brethren) does understand that winning elections does not mean you’re relieved from trying to govern by (national) consensus. Moreover he also tried to reassure that Ennahda is not a threat to Tunisians who fear that they might want to interfere in their private lives. Even more important is the decision to drop their insistence for “the-perfection of-the-revolution”-law to be passed in parliament. This to-be-formed-law has been controversial from the beginning. It was obvious that (the biggest oppositionist party) Call of Tunisia would become victim of it due to the fact that some of their politicians have served under Ben Ali and would then be forbidden to practice politics for a certain period. Ennahda dropping the initiative to pass that law in parliament is by some of its supporters to be considered as disappointing, after Nahda has been pushing the initiative for it for months. One should understand the outcry this decision might have caused among Ennahda’s supporters by the numerous examples of Nahda politicians (and some of its supporters) who have been imprisoned and tortured by the Ben Ali regime, in which some of Call of Tunisia politicians have served at that time as ministers or their (financial) donors – business men – have praised and supported Ben Ali abundantly. Nevertheless the proposed law, that has now been dropped, also had a political aim: making an end to the increasing political influence of Call of Tunisia. It is therefore a recognition in itself of the increasing political importance of Call of Tunisia (Nidaa Tounes) that Ennahda-president Ghannoushi travelled to meet its leader in Paris.

The opposition’s response

The opposition was quite fast to announce that they do not accept Ennahda’s insistence on not dissolving the government before negotiations start in the Labour union’s national initiative. Almost all opposition parties, and especially the ones that have been most anti-government, agreed to insist on their demand for the government to be dissolved before any initiatives are taken. Arguing that their is such as lack of trust that it is useless to impossible to negotiate before the government has been dissolved.

Nevertheless there have also been differences of opinion among the most vocal anti-government parties. Call of Tunisia, the biggest opposition party led by al-Sebsi, does not agree with the demand of the Popular Front (socialist/marxist) that all government appointed head of institutions, governors and administrators should be removed. Al-Sebsi, who met Ennahda-president Rashed al-Ghannoushi two weeks ago in paris, mentioned in an interview this week with Nessma TV that he disagrees with that specific demand of the Popular Front. Arguing that the state and its institutions have to continue working and removing governors would be cause problems. Al-Sebsi did insist in the interview on the government to be dissolved before any negotiations take place.

Ansar al-Sharia branded a terrorist organization

abou iyaadh                                               Right: Abou Iyaadh, founder of Ansar al-Sharia

On Thursday, 29 August, the Ministry of Interior accused several Ansar al-Sharia members of involvement in the assassination of two politicians (Chokri Belaid and Mohamed al-Brahmi) and of violence near Chaambi Mountain in Western Tunisia, including the killing of eight soldiers in an ambush last July. In a press conference on Wednesday by the Minister of Interior confessions and recordings were shown of al-Qaida members of the Islamic Magreb and the Tunisian Ansar al-Sharia branch to prove that there is a relationship between the two groups. During the conference tapped Skype conversations were shown in which a Tunisian and a non-Tunisian Arab are discussion terrorist attacks on Tunisian soils. The Interior Ministry made clear there was a list of more politicians that should be assassinated to turn the country into chaos, and there was also a plan to get Libyan jihadis into Tunisia in a plot to carry out multiple attacks “the country has never witnessed in its history”. It is most probably because of the plan to get Libyan jihadis into Tunisia to help carry out an attack on Tunisian soil that president Marzouki announced yesterday immediate security measures; some zones along the Libyan and Algerian border will be “security zones”.

Ansar al-Sharia is a salafist-jihadi group that has earlier on also been linked to the attack last year on the American embassy in Tunis. Its founder Abou Iyaadh (see picture above), who fought at the side of many other jihadists in the Afghan war against the former Soviet Union, has been wanted by the Tunisian authorities since the attack on the American embassy last year. His exact whereabouts are unknown, although it is assumed he is still in Tunisia. Ansar al-Sharia has this week officially been designated a terrorist organization because some of its members links to al-Qaida. After having been branded a terrorist organization the government has shutdown their websites, facebook pages and arrested more of its members and religious leaders in several security operations across the country.