The president of the Tunisian parliament urges a ‘peaceful fight’ against the president’s seizure of power


Tunisian Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi called on Thursday for a “peaceful fight” against a return to “absolute one-man rule”, a day after President Kais Saied took steps to rule by decree.

“There is no alternative to the struggle, naturally a peaceful struggle,” said the head of the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party in an interview with AFP.

Saied announced decrees Wednesday that strengthen the powers of his office at the expense of the government and parliament.

Ghannouchi called the measures “a step backward toward absolute one-man rule” a decade after the 2011 revolution in Tunisia.

“We call on the people to participate in peaceful actions to resist the dictatorship and return Tunisia to the path of democracy,” he said.

The new provisions come nearly two months after the president removed the Ennahdha-backed Hichem Mechichi government and suspended parliament, presenting himself as the top interpreter of the constitution.

Ennahdha, the largest party in the divided legislature, condemned the July 25 moves as a “coup” and a hard-won violation of the country’s 2014 constitution.

While many Tunisians supported Saied’s movements out of frustration with the political system, some observers saw them as a setback for the only democracy that emerged from the Arab Spring uprisings.

Ghannouchi, 80, camped for 12 hours in front of the parliament in Tunis after Saied took power.

“The situation is worse now than before July 25,” he said in Thursday’s interview.

Before that, “there were no arrests for blog posts, nor thousands of Tunisians who were banned from leaving the country.”

‘Authoritarian slide’

Tunisia has experienced years of political stagnation since its 2011 revolution, with rebel coalitions and short-lived governments that have proven incapable of solving pressing social and economic crises.

The 2019 elections produced another fragmented parliament that once again allowed Ennahdha to dominate the government.

The resulting legislative stalemate, which paralyzed a country hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, meant that Saied’s takeover in July enjoyed significant public support.

But civil society groups have warned against a slide toward authoritarianism that would end Tunisia’s democratic gains a decade after the revolution toppled former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

“The president has gone back to before the revolution,” Ghannouchi said.

He said his party was willing to work with all parties to restore democracy in Tunisia.

Ghannouchi founded Ennahdha four decades ago and has remained in command ever since despite years of exile under the Ben Ali dictatorship.

‘Harsh methods and violence’

After the fall of Ben Ali in the 2011 revolution, Ennahdha returned to politics and has since been part of all parliamentary coalitions, backing the country’s series of short-lived governments.

But the party has clashed with Saied, a former legal scholar who bitterly opposes the Ennahdha and Tunisia party system, and calls instead for a form of decentralization.

“The president has convictions that he expressed before taking office: his vision of the popular government, his rejection of … political parties, parliaments. That is his choice, his right,” Ghannouchi said.

“But he has no right to use harsh methods and violence.”

Ennahdha is the most organized party in the deeply fragmented 217-seat legislature, which is also headed by Ghannouchi.

But since 2014, the party’s share of the vote has plummeted.

It has also seen internal fractures in recent years, as the younger members have demanded changes at the top, including the replacement of Ghannouchi himself.

“The only positive aspect of the president’s decisions is that they will unify Ennahdha with other political parties and unify Ennahdha himself,” Ghannouchi said.

When asked if his party would participate in the elections if Saied called them, he said: “We would participate, absolutely.”