Dangerous alliance between Ennahda and Nidaa Tunis

Despite their differences, it seems that Nidaa Tunis and Ennahda have more than enough common characteristics to establish an alliance in Tunisia’s government, even if it means undermining democracy.

al-monitor Beji Caid Essebsi, former Tunisian prime minister and leader of the Nidaa Tunis (Call of Tunisia) secular party, speaks during a meeting on the third anniversary of the overthrow of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in a popular revolt, in Tunis, Jan. 14, 2014. Photo by REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi.

Topics covered

tunisia, politics, political blocs, political opportunism, nidaa tunis, islamization, islamists, ennahda

Apr 2, 2014

The potential alliance between Nidaa Tunis and the Ennahda party has long sparked controversy in light of confirmations and denials. Yet, the fact remains that the country’s two main political forces have in hand all the factors necessary to establish an alliance and govern together. This step is likely to have risks on democracy in Tunisia.

During an interview with Reuters on March 17, Beji Caid Essebsi, head of Nidaa Tunis, said in a first-of-its-kind statement that his party is ready to collaborate with Islamists if they “partially win” the next election. Yet until now, Essebsi had always said that his party had no intention of establishing any alliance with Ennahda. Even more, he went so far as to engage in a conflict with Najib Chebbi, head of al-Joumhouri party, when the latter revealed that an agreement was reached between the two parties to share power. This conflict resulted in al-Joumhouri leaving the Union for Tunisia coalition.

For its part, Ennahdha, without actually expressing openly its intention to ally with Nidaa Tunis, continues to issue multiple statements in this regard. During his last visit to the United States, Rachid Ghannouchi, head of Ennahda party, said, “Tunisia will be governed by a national consensus government following the next legislative elections; a government that consists of Islamists and secular moderates, because a 51% majority cannot govern a country whose democratic institutions are recent and fragile.”

Authoritarianism and conservatism

Co-governing is becoming a reality, even a necessity. These two political forces, despite all of the differences separating them and the animosity characterizing their relations, have everything to work together. What do they have in common?

Ennahda and Nidaa Tunis are basically conservative parties. The principles of Ennahda are based on Islamist ideology to defend family values, the place of religion and to raise the moral standards of the community. Nidaa Tunis promotes the same ideas, yet from a different angle, by stressing the concept of a Tunisian identity. The ideas of this party combine both the openness to modernity and the commitment to Islam. In other words, it is a pseudo-modernity, a distorted secularism and a form of political and intellectual opportunism.

The two major parties basically seek to control society through moral and religious values. For its part, the notion of the free and responsible individual is only paid lip service, and authoritarianism and patriarchy are the main characteristics of these parties.

Also, they are both right-wing parties given their conservatism, but also their liberalism. Despite their different ideological matrix, they both support the free market, capitalism, privatization, low state intervention in economic life and great openness toward foreign investment.

In fact, when Islamists were in power, they only managed to extend the economic policies of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The latter had led social classes to revolt after they were weakened by unbridled capitalism and an inequitable development between regions.

For its part, Nidaa Tunis does not offer a very different economic model, especially considering that many of the experts who worked on its economic program are from the old regime, and they have made great efforts to implement its policy.

Therefore, once in power, both parties will seek to maintain the same economic balance by promoting private initiative, favoring employers to the detriment of the workforce and continuing to present Tunisia as a destination where labor is cheap, i.e., to perpetuate a system that keeps disadvantaged social classes mired in precariousness.

Anti-democratic culture

The two political parties share a lust for power, a natural ability to seize it and a common desire to keep it for as long as possible. Despite the statements made by their leaders on the need for alternation in power, they fundamentally have an anti-democratic culture.

After all, what to expect from an Islamist party that has a vision of a society based on a theological and reactionary conception? Is it expected to create a secular state where human rights and freedoms and democracy values are observed?

As far as Nidaa Tunis is concerned, things are not radically different. This party is mostly formed by Destourians and former Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) members, neither of whom have a democratic culture. So how could they have possibly learned it? Was it under the rules of Habib Bourguiba or Ben Ali?

In response to the accusations Tahar Ben Hassine, former member of Nidaa Tunis executive board, who justified his resignation with “the absence of minimum standards of democratic governance within the party,” Essebsi said in September 2013 that “there is no democratic party in Tunisia,” and added, “We are trying to learn democracy.”

What can we ultimately expect from the alliance between the two parties following the elections? An alliance that seems inevitable.

It would obviously imply the victory of all those who did not participate in ​​the revolution and who ended up reaping the benefits. This revolution, which was mainly carried out by unemployed and poor youth, will turn out to be dependent on a conservative, old, paternalistic and authoritarian ruling class that favors the interests of the employer, and most importantly, does not believe in the value of the individual and the need for independence

Former RCD supporters recruited

If this alliance is made, we must mourn the transitional justice, because who will account to whom? A tacit agreement was already signed by Nidaa Tunis and Ennahda not to open each other’s files and to ignore the corruption, the mismanagement of state resources, the dictatorship and the various abuses of human rights. Besides, no one, whether members of the old regime or the new (Islamist) regime, has apologized so far to the Tunisian people for their mistakes.

Moreover, Ennahda and Nidaa Tunis have engaged in a raging race to include the RCD supporters, by numerous actions of seduction. It is not just about holding them accountable, but also about bringing down all legal barriers that prevent them from returning to politics and reaching power.

The only salvation today is to mobilize civil society on the one hand, which has always been a safeguard against the abuses of former governments, to continue to deploy efforts to defend democracy and combat the return of dictatorship. On the other hand, there should be a third political track, involving parties that refuse to be part of this polarization and that advocate a new project that further meets the aspirations of Tunisian society.

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