Shock waves continue to reverberate throughout Tunisia’s political spectrum following President Kais Saied’s far-reaching moves on July 25th. The removal of senior state officials and the appointment of others still occur on a daily basis. Yet it remains difficult for anyone to foresee the president's next move. Despite all this uncertainty, the steps taken by President Saied remain the most radical in Tunisian political life since the ouster of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. These moves will have profound repercussions on Tunisia’s politics, its political system, and especially on the president’s Islamist opponents, namely, the Ennahda movement.
This paper sheds light on the implications of President Saied's actions for the Ennahda movement, analyzes the movement's reactions, and dives into the dynamics of an internal conflict within this Islamist party.
A Befuddled Position and Perplexed Leadership
The surprise factor was decisive in the success of the "constitutional" move announced by President Kais Saied on the evening of July 25, 2021. No one ever thought that the president would take the unusual move and declare a "state of imminent danger", despite abundant evidence of an unprecedented multi-dimensional crisis in the healthcare, political and economic fields. The events and decisions taken on the night of July 25th rendered Ennahda unable to take a balanced position. The movement's leaders were clearly confused in the media in expressing a unified or properly formulated position. But as soon as everyone began to absorb the shock and understand that President Saied's move was proceeding in a gradual and clear manner and that it was not just exceptional measures, the Brotherhood movement began to formulate a new position towards what had happened. Therefore, the Ennahda movement’s handling of Tunisian president’s actions from the first moment until today passed in three basic stages:
Determinants of President Saied's Superiority Over the Ennahda movement
It seems that the unprecedented decline of the Ennahda movement, and the success of President Saied's sudden move, were governed by four basic determinants that were pivotal in the balance of power on the night of July 25, namely:
A Deepening Gap Between the Leadership and the Grassroots
In the wake of the exceptional measures taken by Tunisian President Kais Saied and the political confusion that enveloped the Ennahda movement, it became clear that the Brotherhood movement had lost its popular base. Large sectors that used to vote for the movement refrained from taking to the streets despite calls made by Ghannouchi and other leaders of the movement to "defend legitimacy and democracy". This rejection was only the end of a long path of disintegration of the organizational base of Ennahda, which began years ago, but whose results became clear on the eve of July 25, 2021.
One of the manifestations of this disintegration is the erosion of the movement's electoral base over the ten years since it took power. After the number of those who voted for the movement in the 2011 elections reached about 1.5 million, the number has rolled down to only about 560,000 in 2019. The number of the movement’s representatives in Parliament also decreased from 89 in 2011 to 69 in 2014 and 54 today, only 29 of who collected the number of votes corresponding to the electoral quotient, while the others were elected thanks to the distribution of the remaining votes.
Although the movement continued to have the largest parliamentary bloc due to the fragmentation of the secular opposition, it lost its strength in the street. Its supporters felt disappointed by populist promises and slogans raised by the movement following its return to the political arena in 2011. Consequently, the gap continued to deepen day by day between the movement's leaders who are more pragmatic and ambivalent in their stances and policies on the one hand, and its more conservative popular base on the other.
In addition to these objective circumstances, it seems that a major dispute that has divided the movement since the 2016 congress, between a group led by Rached Ghannouchi and an opposition camp, has undermined the movement's ability to communicate with the grassroots. This dispute led to the departure of dozens of prominent leaders of the movement. As for the youth sector of the movement, Rached Ghannouchi’s control of the movement’s leadership for more than five decades has come under wide criticism from a broad range of movement members and grassroots bases. It also emerged that family and clannish considerations clearly drove the appointment of leaders and officials. Ghannouchi is now leading the movement through a family administration that includes a narrow circle of loyalists and relatives. This prompted the opposition movement to bring the internal disputes out into the open in an unprecedented step, which caused the Ennahda movement to lose a major chunk of its reputation among the masses. Despite all this, it does not seem that the movement will be able to mobilize its supporters in the short and medium terms, which ultimately means it would underperform in any future elections and lose an important card that has always given it an edge over other parties.
Since its founding at the end of the 1960s, the Tunisian Brotherhood movement - which has been called "Ennahda" since 1988 - has been an arena for a struggle over leadership between one of its founders, Rashid Ghannouchi, and other leaders of the movement. However, since these conflicts have always been hidden from the media, the conflict that has raged since the movement’s 2016 congress between Ghannouchi and his opponents has been unprecedented in its intensity, depth and impact. A number of leaders, including Abdel Hamid Jelassi (resigned in 2020) and Abdel Latif El Makki, suggested that half of the members of the Executive Board be elected while leaving Ghannouchi to appoint the other half, but Ghannouchi threatened to withdraw from the congress before the proposal was eventually rejected by a minority Simple (52%).Since then, a strong opposition to Ghannouchi has begun to take shape, denouncing the "excessive concentration of power" in the hands of the movement's leader. Then the division deepened further when Ghannouchi unilaterally decided to change 30 out of 33 electoral list heads in the run-up to the October 2019 legislative elections, which opponents considered a legal violation. Ghannouchi also hinted at the possibility that he would run again for the leadership of the movement in its congress to be held at the end of this year, although the movement’s statute does not allow for doing so. In September 2020, 100 members of Ennahda, including prominent figures such as Samir Dilou, Abdellatif Makki, Mohamed Ben Salem, Habib El-Louz and Amal Azzouz, sent a letter to Ghannouchi calling on him to respect the legal and institutional structures of the movement and to abandon the idea of running again and leave room for new generations.
In addition to the conflict between these two camps within the party, today there is a third offshoot, but it is still in the orbit of the movement. Hence, the conflict within the Tunisian Brotherhood movement can be divided into three streams, as follows:
In light of the developments in Tunisian politics after President Kais Saied’s decisions, and the difficult subjective situation that the Ennahda movement is experiencing, i.e. the conflict between Ghannouchi and his opponents, the movement is living its darkest days since 1991. It suffers from severe political and popular weakness from which recovery will not be easy. It is possible to draw three potential paths for what might happen in the foreseeable future:
But the ongoing conflict between the two parties to the conflict within the Ennahda movement could eventually lead to the sharing of positions during the next congress. This may also open the door for the return of figures who resigned from the movement and to reach a compromise that separates the movement presidency job - which cannot legally revert to Ghannouchi again - on the one hand, and the leadership position on the other. The latter will be something like a supreme leadership similar to Iran's supreme leader model, which may be granted to Ghannouchi in an attempt to launch the "post-Ghannouchi" phase without fanfare.
In any case, the Brotherhood movement during the next stage will remain mired in its internal problems, which will make it unable to act politically, whether Ghannouchi remains its president or not.
 Ahmed Nadhif, Tunisia’s “State of Imminent Danger”: Trajectories and Implications, Emirates Policy Center, 28 July 2021. https://epc.ae/brief/tunisias-state-of-imminent-danger-trajectories-and-implications
 Tunisian president ousts government in move critics call a coup, Euro News, 26/07/2021. https://www.euronews.com/2021/07/25/us-tunisia-politics
 Tunisie: "Le parti Ennahda fait volte-face avec la volonté de préserver l’unité du pays", France24, 27/07/2021. https://www.france24.com/fr/afrique/20210727-tunisie-ennahdha-fait-volte-face-avec-la-volont%C3%A9-de-pr%C3%A9server-l-unit%C3%A9-du-pays
 Tunisia's Ennahda signals shift on political crisis, Reuters, August 5, 2021. https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/tunisian-ennahda-leader-says-crisis-opportunity-reform-2021-08-04/
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 Intissar Kherigi, Ennahdha’s Separation of the Religious and the Political: A Historic Change or a Risky Maneuver?, Al Sharq Forum, 08 SEPTEMBER 2016. https://research.sharqforum.org/2016/09/08/ennahdhas-separation-of-the-religious-and-the-political-a-historic-change-or-a-risky-maneuver/
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 Theo Blanc, Ennahdha after Ghannouchi, The Middle East Directions Programme Blog, November 3rd, 2020. https://blogs.eui.eu/medirections/ennahdha-after-ghannouchi/
 Article 31 of Ennahda’s revised statute, relating to the conditions for electing a party president, states that “no member may hold the party leadership for more than two consecutive terms.”
 Larbi Sadiki, Intra-Party Democracy in Tunisia’s Ennahda: Ghannouchi and the Pitfalls of “Charismatic” Leadership, Middle East Institute, November 25, 2020. https://www.mei.edu/publications/intra-party-democracy-tunisias-ennahda-ghannouchi-and-pitfalls-charismatic-leadership
 Ahmed Nazif, “An attempt to dissect the conflict within the Tunisian Ennahda Movement” - Al-Nahar Al-Arabi, January 20, 2021. (Arabic) https://www.annaharar.com/arabic/makalat/annahar-alarabi-authors/19012021114916230
 "After its involvement in corruption, demands for the dissolution of the Ennahda movement" - Sky News Arabia, July 31, 2021. (Arabic) https://bit.ly/37vMLAa
 Seghair Hidri, Widening divisions within Ennahda threaten party with split, The Arab Weekly, 16/11/2020. https://thearabweekly.com/widening-divisions-within-ennahda-threaten-party-split
 Ahmed Nazif, “An attempt to dissect the conflict within the Tunisian Ennahda Movement” - Al-Nahar Al-Arabi, January 20, 2021. (Arabic)
 Theo Blanc, Ennahdha after Ghannouchi, Op. cit.
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