Ghannouchi’s arrest reflects an “authoritarian drift” in the country

Tunisian authorities on Monday arrested the leader of the Islamo-conservative Ennahdha movement, Rached Ghannouchi, one of the main opponents of President Kais Saied. In fact, the Tunisian government is accused by its opponents, but also by international NGOs, of authoritarian drift. 20 minutes looks into the situation.

What happened to Rached Ghannouchi?

Rached Ghannouchi was arrested by police at his home in Tunis. The leader of the Islamo-conservative Ennahdha movement, one of the main opponents of President Kais Saied, was taken to a police barracks for questioning. In a statement, Ennahdah denounced “this extremely serious development” and called for his “immediate release”.

The vice-president of the party, Mondher Lounissi, affirmed during a press conference that the lawyers of the figurehead of Ennahdha had not been authorized to attend his interrogation. His arrest comes after statements reported by the media, in which Rached Ghannouchi, 81, said this weekend that Tunisia would be threatened with a “civil war” if political Islam, from which his party stems, including was eliminated.

A source at the Interior Ministry quoted by Tunisian media confirmed that his arrest was linked to these statements. The octogenarian appeared in February at the counter-terrorism judicial center following a complaint accusing him of having called the police “tyrants”. The opponent, President Saied’s pet peeve, was also heard in November 2022 by a judge from the counter-terrorism judicial center for a case related to the alleged dispatch of jihadists to Syria and Iraq. In July of the same year, he was also questioned on suspicion of corruption and money laundering linked to the transfer of funds from abroad to a charity organization affiliated with Ennahdha.

Who is Rached Ghannouchi?

A leading opponent under the regimes of Habib Bourguiba and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the return to the country of Rached Ghannouchi after twenty years of exile in London, following the fall of the dictator in 2011, was celebrated by thousands of people. But his star has gradually faded since the revolution, his detractors accusing him of being a pragmatic maneuverer ready to do anything to stay in power.

Failing to be able to gather an absolute majority, he has always managed to ensure that Ennahdha is essential in the various coalitions since the revolution. Even if it means making unnatural alliances with the liberal Qalb Tounes party of businessman Nabil Karoui, or with former president Béji Caïd Essebsi, arguing the need for a “consensus” necessary for democratic transition.

At the beginning of his career, he was first inspired by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, before claiming the Turkish Islamist model of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He then transformed Ennahdha into a civil movement, supposed since 2016 to be devoted only to politics, and has since appeared as a “Muslim democrat” defending conservative values ​​without dogmatism.

Is he the only imprisoned opponent?

Since the beginning of February, the authorities have imprisoned more than twenty opponents and personalities including ex-ministers, businessmen and the owner of the most listened to radio station in the country, Mosaïque FM. These arrests, denounced by local and international NGOs, targeted leading political figures of the National Salvation Front (FSN), the main opposition coalition of which Ennahdha is a member.

Kaid Saied described the 20 people arrested as “terrorists”, accusing them of “plotting against state security”. Amnesty International (AI) has called on the Tunisian authorities to release these personalities, detained on “unfounded” suspicions of plotting against state security.

Is Tunisia facing a democratic crisis?

Kaid Saied, 65, democratically elected to the presidency in 2019, has concentrated all powers since July 25, 2021. Despite the entry into office of a new parliament in March – largely deprived of his previous prerogatives – the president continues to lead the country by decrees.

After his coup, he had the Constitution revised to establish an ultra-presidentialist system at the expense of Parliament, which no longer has any real powers, unlike the dissolved Assembly dominated by Ennahdha. NGOs and the main opposition parties have denounced an “authoritarian drift” in Tunisia, shaking the young democracy that emerged from the first revolt of the Arab Spring in 2011.

“The arrest of the leader of the most important political party in the country, who has always shown his attachment to peaceful political action, marks a new phase in the crisis”, reacted Monday evening the president of the FSN, Ahmed Néjib Chebbi. “This is blind revenge against opponents,” he said.

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