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Will Nidaa Tunis' troubles boost Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt?

The resignations of 32 Nidaa Tunis MPs makes Ennahda the largest parliamentary bloc, raising questions about a possible spillover effect for the Egyptian Brotherhood.
Members of the Tunisian parliament of Nidaa Tounes party gather during a news conference in Tunis, Tunisia November 9, 2015. Thirty two Tunisian lawmakers accused President Beji Caid Essebsi's son of meddling and resigned from the ruling party bloc in parliament on Monday, allowing Islamist rivals to become the largest party. "We decided to resign from the party's bloc today after the refusal to hold an executive committee meeting, which is the only legitimate structure of the party," Hassouna Nasfi, one of

CAIRO — The resignation of 32 Nidaa Tunis members from their party’s parliamentary bloc in Tunisia on Nov. 9 has observers wondering whether the resignations represent the early stages of the disintegration of Nidaa Tunis and the possible re-emergence of Ennahda and what effect such a scenario might have, if any, on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The resignations stem from a dispute over leadership of the party between the supporters of party General Secretary Mohsen Marzou and those of Hafedh Essebsi, party deputy chair and son of Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi. 

Ennahda had been the most influential party in Tunisia from 2011 to 2014, but Nidaa Tunis won the elections held in October 2014, taking 86 seats. Ennahda, with 67 seats, agreed to being represented in the government by a single minister. The resignations drop the number of Nidaa Tunis parliamentarians to 54, making Ennahda the largest bloc. The next moves are yet to be announced.

Ennahda, led by Rachid Ghannouchi, takes the position that the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi remains the legitimate president of Egypt, brought down by the military. This has raised questions about whether the Nidaa Tunis resignations and a potentially resurgent Ennahda will influence the Brotherhood.

Waheed Abdel Meguid, deputy head of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Al-Monitor, “Such influence is linked to the answers to three questions: Is Ennahda willing to rule? Will the resigning MPs oppose [Prime Minister] Habib Essid’s government? Will the resigning MPs support Ennahda in parliament?” Abdel Meguid then said, “The answer to the three questions is no. All signs indicate that the balance of power will remain unchanged in parliament. Change will, however, occur on the political map, whose features will be revealed following Tunisia’s municipal elections in early 2016.”

According to Abdel Meguid, “[Ghannouchi] does not want Ennahda to take power at present. He is well aware of the difficulties and pressures under which an Ennahda government would have to work. He has benefited from the Brotherhood's experience in Egypt, and he wants to preserve Ennahda and lay its foundations in state institutions to be ready to assume responsibility.”

Said Sadek, a political sociology professor at the American University in Cairo, told Al-Monitor, “Political Islam has an international ideology, just like communism. The fall of its main branch in Egypt, namely, the Brotherhood, is similar to the fall of communism in the Soviet Union, which affected all the communist parties in Eastern Europe. Thus, Ghannouchi’s statements in which he expressed sympathy for the Egyptian Brotherhood were a means of defending the Brotherhood’s ideology. Such statements will gain him a number of supporters for this ideology both in Tunisia and abroad. Ennahda in Tunisia will not allow the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to die out, because this would pose a threat to Ennahda as well.”

Sadek added, “The influence that Tunisia’s Brotherhood has on the Egyptian Brotherhood is different from that of Turkey’s Brotherhood. This is because Turkey is home to fugitive leaders of the Egyptian Brotherhood and because the Brotherhood’s satellite TV stations broadcast from Turkey. Moreover, the Brotherhood freely holds protests against Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the Turkish streets, which does not happen in Tunisia.”

Amin Shalaby, executive director of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, told Al-Monitor, “The Brotherhood views the decline of liberal forces [in Tunisia] as support for their movement, because it is a sign indicating that the Islamist tendency among the people is still present, strong and influential.”

Said al-Lawandi, an expert on international relations and professor at Cairo University, told Al-Monitor, “The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in neighboring countries, whether in Tunisia, Turkey, Morocco, Yemen or Libya, will not make any major difference for the majority of the Egyptian people. The latter perceive that the one-year rule of the Brotherhood was a black year, during which Egypt was hijacked.”

Lawandi further stated, “All forms and parties of political Islam are unacceptable [unpopular] in Egypt. This seemed clear in the recent [October first-round] parliamentary elections, where the Salafist Nour Party won 12 seats, two of which were challenged in the judiciary during the first round of voting. But, in the 2012 parliamentary elections, [Nour] won 112 seats, that is, 22% of the total number of seats. The reason [for the drop] is that the Egyptian people view the Nour Party as the other side of the Brotherhood. The results indicate that the Brotherhood’s problem is with the people, not with the regime.”

Kamal Habib, an expert on the group’s affairs, told Al-Monitor, “The Muslim Brotherhood will not disappear from Egypt. It is necessary to think of a way to accommodate and integrate them into the political system, which Ghannouchi is demanding. He is also trying to persuade Saudi Arabia to mediate a reconciliation between the Brotherhood and Sisi, because the alternative will be ongoing acute polarization and hatred, upon which nations cannot be built.” In Habib's view, “Ghannouchi is dealing with the Egyptian Brotherhood issue as a statesman, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is taking it personally and even has the Rabia symbol on his desk.”

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