Succession of Ghannouchi and Increasing Division Inside Ennahda Movement: Indications and Scenarios

Shereen Mohammed | 25 Oct 2020

The Ennahda (Renaissance) Movement in Tunisia is witnessing an escalating struggle between its leaders. This is mainly due to the problematic succession of Rached al-Ghannouchi as the head of the Movement, considering that the Movement has become divided between two groups, one of them advocating the continuation of Ghannouchi as the Movement’s leader by renewing his candidacy for a third presidential term to maintain the Movement’s stability and survival at the forefront of the country’s political scene, while the other refusing to amend the Movement’s internal law which stipulates that Ghannouchi may not assume the leadership of the Movement for more than two consecutive terms.

On 16 October 2020, the Group of Hundred within the Ennahda Movement renewed its objection to Ghannouchi's insistence on running for a new term as president of the Movement, prior to the Movement’s Eleventh Conference which is scheduled to be held before the end of 2020. Indications have emerged of the struggle of the wings within the Movement in terms of the multiple resignations of the historical and youth leaders from the Movement’s membership, the disagreement over the policies and positions of the Movement’s President on internal and external issues, and the exchange of accusations between the Movement’s leaders regarding attempts of exclusion and the creation of "parallel" entities.

Contradictory views within the Ennahda regarding the succession of Ghannouchi

Ennahda’s members were divided over the issue of Ghannouchi's succession in terms of supporters of his stay and opponents to it. The group supporting Ghannouchi’s continued leadership of the Movement for a third time after the 2012 and 2016 terms[1] relied on a number of considerations, the most important of which are the following:

  1. Overcoming the difficult stage in the history of the country and the region: this trend sees Ghannouchi’s stay as an “urgent necessity” for the party’s stability under the current tense circumstances in the domestic and regional political arena. The Movement has already engaged in confrontations with the Head of State, the Prime Minister, the Free Destourian (Constitutional) Party, and the Tunisian General Labour Union. In the event that the disagreement continues between members of the Movement regarding the succession of Ghannouchi, this would lead to a struggle on "multiple fronts".[2]
  2. The desire of a wing within Ennahda to have Ghannouchi run for the Tunisian presidency: this goal was undeclared until it was revealed by a second message sent by the Group of Hundred that is opposed to the extension to Rached al-Ghannouchi as the head of the Ennahda Movement, indicating Ghannouchi’s desire to run in the Tunisian presidential elections scheduled for 2024.[3]

On the other hand, the group opposing Ghannouchi's stay as the leader of the Movement, represented by the so-called Group of Hundred, including members of the Executive Office, the Shura (Consultative) Council, and the parliamentary bloc within the Assembly of the Representatives of the People (ARP, the Tunisian Parliament), as well as some local leaders (such as Abd al-Latif al-Makki, Noureddine al-Arabawi, Fathi al-Ayadi, Samir Dilou, and others) sent a signed to memorandum to Rached al-Ghannouchi, on 16 September 2020, in which they demanded that he announces that he is not running for the leadership of the Movement again, at the next conference scheduled for the end of 2020.[4] The signatories to the memorandum based their rejection on a number of considerations, mainly the following:

  1. Respect for the Movement’s internal regulations: according to those members, Ghannouchi's declaration that he is not running for the Movement’s leadership would confirm respect for the requirements of Chapter 31 of the internal regulations, and the establishment of the principle of leadership transfer, given that Article 31 stipulates that “no member shall have the right to assume the leadership of the Movement for more than two consecutive terms". Therefore, Ghannouchi’s stay would lead to the deterioration of the Movement’s internal conditions and its split into supporters and opponents.[5]
  2. Providing the conditions for the success of the Movement’s next conference: in June 2020, the Ennahda Movement’s Shura Council approved the holding of the general conference at the end of 2020, amid the rejection by large numbers of prominent leaders of the re-election of Ghannouchi, especially that he completed the two presidential terms provided for by the ninth conference and no longer has the legal right to run again.[6]
  3. Exceeding the "personalisation" of the Movement’s leadership: one of the main justifications for refusing Ghannouchi’s stay in his position is to prevent the identification of Ennahda Movement with its president Rached al-Ghannouchi, considering that this is the biggest criticism to be directed at any partisan institution or political entity. This was expressed by the opponents via the Tunisian media by saying: “it is inconceivable that a rich and historical entity be reduced to a name".[7]
  4. Injecting new blood into the Ennahda Movement: Rached al-Ghannouchi spent nearly 46 years leading the Movement in a manner that suggests perpetuating the authority within the Movement. A trend has emerged that supports “rejuvenating the Movement’s leadership” and handing over the torch to a second generation. The voices rejecting Ghannouchi's stay in the Movement’s leadership were not new; movements to overthrow Ghannouchi within Ennahda began in May 2020, when a group of the Movement’s top leaders, who call themselves the "Unity and Renewal" Group, demanded that the transfer of leadership in the Movement be ensured, thus allowing the renewal of its elites according to the requirements of its statutes and the authority of the institutions.[8]
  5. Fear of the erosion of Ennahda’s popularity: there is a will to remove Ghannouchi from the Movement’s leadership, expressed by a number of the party’s leaders and members who hold Ghannouchi responsible for the erosion of the party’s electoral reservoir in the recent presidential elections. This may later reflect on the upcoming parliamentary elections. Therefore, it is necessary to remove Ghannouchi and prevent him from taking over the Movement’s leadership again.[9]

Indications of the escalation of the disagreement between the wings within the Ennahda Movement

  • The increase in resignations within the Movement: over the past few months, an increasing number of historical leaders have submitted their resignations from the Movement’s membership in protest against Ghannouchi's desire to remain in his position, including the Movement’s second man and its Vice President Abdelfattah Mourou, its historical leader Abdel Hamid al-Jalasi, and its Secretary-General Ziyad al-Athari. They were preceded by Riad al-Shuaibi, Zubair al-Shahoudi and Hammadi Al-Jabali. Also resigning were youth leaders such as Ziad Boumakhleh and Hisham al-Arrayed. These resignations reflected the state of division, dispersion and rupture within the Movement.[10]
  • The disagreement over the Movement’s policies and stances towards internal and external issues: there is a state of dissatisfaction within Ennahda with Ghannouchi's choices and his monopolisation of the decision-making with regard to Ennahda’s alliances at home, especially its recent alliance with the Qalb Tounes (Heart of Tunisia) Party to approve the government of Hichem Mechichi to avoid the option of returning to holding early parliamentary elections.[11]
  • Exchange of accusations between the Movement’s leaders: Ghannouchi described those who disagree with him and call on him to refrain from running again as a “parallel entity” that aims at dividing the Movement and subsequently weakening it politically. However, this accusation was rejected by the Group of Hundred who underlined that they do not present themselves as a parallel entity to the Movement, and that they only raised this issue within the framework of arranging the internal conditions of the Movement. Others considered that Ghannouchi wants to be a parallel president of Tunisia.[12]

The likely scenarios for Ennahda’s future and president

  1. The split of the Movement into two movements or parties, especially after the emergence of fissures within it in light of the increased likelihood that the Group of Hundred would withdraw from the Movement’s next conference or submit their resignations in the worst circumstances. This comes in the context of the expansion of the opposition front within Ennahda to Ghannouchi’s continuation as its head and the rise of voices calling for dismissing him from this position and preventing the extension of his presidency for a third term. The Movement may head towards this dangerous area in the event of a tendency to amend the Movement’s internal regulations or even postpone the Conference to 2021.[13] Under this scenario, the nascent/dissident party may include a number of leaders and members opposed to Ghannouchi.
  2. Driving one of the leaders loyal to Ghannouchi to succeed him: this scenario assumes that a final exit of the Movement’s historic head (Rashid al-Ghannouchi) is unlikely, considering that the Movement’s relations with the Muslim Brotherhood organisation and the Movement’s lobbies and finances are under his control. In this case, it is more likely that one of the Movement’s leaders loyal to Ghannouchi would be driven to succeed him formally, while Ghannouchi would retain all the powers granted to him,[14] in addition to assuming the presidency of the Shura Council, in order to absorb the state of anger and congestion within the Movement. However, this may lead to a gradual disintegration of the Movement, especially in light of the growing strength of the wing that wants a real transfer of power within the Movement.[15]
  3. Conducting an internal referendum or amending the Movement’s statutes: this scenario is based on invoking the internal referendum mechanism (that is, within the Movement) regarding the extent of the possible candidacy of Rached al-Ghannouchi for a new term. Regardless of the outcome of the referendum, the final decision on Ghannouchi's succession would be taken, leading to either his nomination or its prevention. Chapter 133 of the Movement’s statutes enables the party leader or a majority of the Shura Council members (the third estimated at 50 members) to call a referendum to overcome this disagreement if it continues. According to this scenario, the disagreement within the Ennahda Movement over this idea is related to the necessity of implementing the law and adhering to it rather than the term extension for the Movement’s president. Indeed, most of Ennahda’s leaders advocate the principle of establishing the transfer through the ballot boxes rather than through texts that focus one aspect and disregard the others. This proposal may be accepted by some of those who reject Ghannouchi's candidacy, because it is a democratic track.[16]

In addition, there is a periodic election process taking place within the Ennahda Movement to resolve the conflict between opinions or the competition between individuals within it, such as the process of electing a new president of the Ennahda’s parliamentary bloc, as a successor to Noureddine Bhiri, in which two personalities were nominated, namely Imed Khemiri (the Ennahda spokesman who has the support of Rached al-Ghannouchi) and Fathi al-Ayadi (former head of the Ennahda Shura Council and one of the advocates of the rejection of extension for Ghannouchi). The competition ended in favour of Khemiri who won 31 votes, against 21 votes for al-Ayadi. This was considered by observers a success for Rached al-Ghannouchi's wing because this electoral result constitutes the victory of a certain segment within the party.

The solution may be through the party structures and the implementation of what is stated in the internal regulations, or as some call it "the Conference is the master of itself", so that the Movement’s internal statutes would be revised.[17]

In the final analysis, all three of the aforementioned scenarios remain plausible, with the possibility of the emergence of a "hybrid" scenario that combines elements of one or another of the scenarios. This indicates that the issue of Ghannouchi's succession reflects the manifestations of fragmentation within the Ennahda Movement, although Ghannouchi's wing seems capable of overcoming the crises faced by both the Movement and its president, both inside Parliament and within the Movement itself.

References

[1] “Ghannouchi consolidates his power within Ennahda by granting positions to his entourage”, Middle East Online, 5 October 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/31sFO0l

[2] Nawrez Khalil, “Ennahda on the road to isolation in a "four-front" battle”, skynewsarabia, 15 July 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/3m8NVXH

[3] Mongi Saidani, “Tunisia’s Ennahda Reveals Ghannouchi’s Intention to Run for Presidency”, Asharq Al-Awsat, 15 October 2020.

[4] Monia Ghanmi, “100 leaders call on Ghannouchi not to run for the presidency of the Ennahda Movement”, alarabiya.net, 16 September 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/3jqXMGR

[5] Adel Ltifi, “What is happening inside the Islamic Ennahda Movement?”, mc-douliya, 19 September 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/2TbGouO

[6] Houda Trablesi, “Ennahda’s crisis: a struggle for gains between brothers!” annaharar, 17 October 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/2TfN8ry

[7] “A leader of Ennahda: The Movement will experience a split if Ghannouchi holds to his position”, alarabiya.net, 24 September 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/2FO4VmJ

[8] Monia Ghanmi, “The situation is no longer tolerable: Ennahda leaders criticise Ghannouchi's dictatorship”, alarabiya.net, 14 October 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/37r0uJN

[9] Amal Mousa, “Ennahda Movement and the killing of the father”, Asharq Al-Awsat, 25 September 2020.

[10] Monia Ghanmi, “The bleeding of Ennahda continues in Tunisia: expected escalation and resignations”, alarabiya.net, 18 September 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/37th4c0

[11] Mongi Saidani, “Tunisia: split in ‘Ennahda’ due to the ‘Ghannouchi strife’”, Asharq Al-Awsat, 19 October 2020.

[12] Jebril Elabidi, "Ennahda’s bankruptcy and evasiveness”, Asharq Al-Awsat, 12 October 2020.

[13] A leading figure in Ennahda: Ghannouchi's clinging to the position puts the Movement at risk”, alarabiya.net, 1 October 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/2FO1OLr

[14] “Tunisia: would Ghannouchi give up the presidency of Ennahda at the next conference?” maghrebvoices, 30 June 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/3jrq6Jb

[15] Farouk Yousef, “Ennahda and Ghanouchi: which one will beat the other?” Middle East Online, 3 October 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/3dJKgwH

[16] Mongi Saidani, “Tunisia: Ennahda Leaders Propose Internal Referendum to  Extend Ghannouchi’s Term”, Asharq Al-Awsat, 8 October 2020.

[17] “Ghannouchi hints at running again for the presidency of Ennahda amid the intensification of the conflict within the Movement”, eremnews, 15 October 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/3ocHjth

 

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