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Ennahda threatened with more resignations

The resignation of prominent member of Ennahda Abdelhamid Jelassi has raised questions about the movement’s unity in Tunisia.
Rached Ghannouchi, leader of Tunisia's moderate Islamist Ennahda party, greets his supporters during a campaign event ahead of the parliamentary elections in Tunis, Tunisia October 3, 2019. Picture taken October 3, 2019. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi - RC1EF9226400

TUNIS, Tunisia — Prominent leader and member of the Ennahda Shura Council Abdelhamid Jelassi announced his resignation from the Ennahda party in a long post on his official Facebook page March 7, in which he said that his political experience with Ennahda is completely over.

Observers said his resignation caused a tremor within Ennahda, as did the previous resignation of then-Prime Minister and Ennahda leader Hamadi Jebali on Dec. 11, 2014.

On Nov. 28, 2019, then-Secretary-General of Ennahda Ziad Ladhari announced his resignation and justified this decision by saying that he was convinced that Ennahda’s choices related to government formation do not live up to Tunisians’ expectations.

In his interview with Al-Monitor, Jelassi accused Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi of intentionally postponing the preparations for Ennahda’s 11th National Congress due in May 2020. The congress aims to elect a new head of the movement to succeed Ghannouchi who was elected speaker of parliament for five years on Nov. 13. 2019.

Chapter 31 of Ennahda’s bylaws limits the party leader to no more than two consecutive four-year terms and states that the party leader shall dedicate himself to his duties as head of the movement leadership only.

Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda party held its first open meeting in Tunisia on July 12, 2012, after decades of covert work since its inception in 1981. During its meeting, the movement reelected Ghannouchi for a second four-year term, with a leadership spanning from 2012 to 2020.

Jelassi said that his decision to resign is final and irreversible, as he realized the lack of democracy within the movement and the crackdown on freedom among its leaders. He also figured out its failure to shift from an Islamist organization led by Ghannouchi to a social democratic party. Jelassi did not rule out the possibility of forming a new political project.

He noted that the Ennahda party lost its political identity and is now at the service of the regime to remain in power. He underlined that the consensus principle that Ghannouchi sought to instil with Nidaa Tunis and its founder, late President Beji Caid Essebsi, did not revive the economy or social development in the country. It was rather a way to reinforce Ennahda’s position against its rivals so that it could prolong its days in power.

In a March 9 statement, Ennahda voiced its disappointment for Jelassi’s resignation, urging him to reconsider his decision because of his status in the movement.

In a local media statement March 6, Ghannouchi said, “Jelassi made a miscalculation when he thought Ennahda dealt with the state as a prize.” He emphasized that “Ennahda is not a prison, but an institution-based movement, and whoever exits it does not become a foe but remains a friend and can return to it.”

In a Facebook post on March 5, member of Ennahda Shura Council Larbi Guesmi warned against disastrous repercussions of Jelassi’s resignation on the movement’s unity. He expected more resignations to follow, calling on Ghannouchi to act quickly to solve the crisis and urge Jelassi to reconsider.

Political analyst and media figure Abu Lubaba Salem told Al-Monitor that Ennahda is well aware of the serious implications of the resignation of Jelassi, who is an influential and militant figure in the movement. His resignation reveals the anger within Ennahda’s ranks at Ghannouchi’s inclination to rule forever, which clearly goes against the movement’s bylaws.

Salem asserted that the Ennahda leadership recently met with Jelassi in attempts to push him to reconsider his resignation, and Jelassi confirmed such meetings in a Facebook post March 11. He wrote that he met with prominent Ennahda leaders Ali al-Areed, Lutfi Zaitoun and Rida al-Saidi, and they had a friendly and candid conversation during which they agreed on cooperating to serve Tunisia. However, he told Al-Monitor he would not reverse his decision to resign.

Many believe Ennahda is now facing a real test to prove its conversion from an ideological organization to a civil party that respects laws and partisan democracy to avoid ending up like other Tunisian parties that experienced several resignations leading to their political demise.

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