14 February 2013

Tunisia: Ennahda Vows Unity As Local Impasse Lingers

Tunis — The political crisis in Tunisia is highlighting a rift in the ruling Islamist party's senior leadership.

Tunisia's ruling Islamist party and three of its allies on Wednesday (February 13th) reiterated their support for a cabinet composed of politicians.

Ennahda, the Congress for the Republic (CPR), Wafa Movement and the Liberty and Dignity bloc issued a joint statement rejecting Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali's proposal for a non-partisan cabinet of technocrats.

"The current stage requires a coalition government open onto parties and independent figures with a large parliamentary, political and popular support," TAP quoted the joint declaration as saying.

The stance directly contradicts a proposal by Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, himself a member of Ennahda. Jebali has threatened to resign if his proposal for a technocrat government is rejected. He originally floated the idea to end the political crisis following the assassination of leftist leader Chokri Belaid.

In view of the growing tensions and disputes within Ennahda, observers believe that the unity of the Islamist party, which withstood shocks under Bourguiba and Ben Ali, is now at risk.

Samir Bettaib, spokesperson for al-Massar Social Democratic Party, said that the dispute between the hard-line wing in Ennahda, represented by Ghannouchi, and the moderate wing led by Jebali and Interior Minister Ali Larayedh, was currently witnessing a truce.

He claimed that this was due to Ghannouchi's interference in the government's work and his obstruction of its activities; something that caused disputes between him and Prime Minister Jebali.

Despite the conflict, Ennahda leaders have vowed to maintain party unity.

"There are always differences and different viewpoints in any democratic movement," Jebali said. "This is what is happening right now in our movement."

For his part, party leader Rachid Ghannouchi said divisions were unlikely in the movement. "God willing, there won't be any splits in Ennahda," he said.

"Ennahda is committed to its institutions and is firm about its unity. However, there is a flow of opinions within it; all opinions are expressed freely and, therefore, I don't believe that Ennahda's unity is threatened," Ghannouchi added.

Internal conflicts have begun to appear within Ennahda since it came to power, according to Riadh Sidaoui, director of the Arab Centre for Research and Policy Analysis.

The most prominent of these conflicts are those between Ennahda leaders in Tunisia and their colleagues overseas, and the provincial conflicts between Ennahda members in southern and inland areas and leaders in coastal areas, the analyst said.

He added that the other conflict that is threatening Ennahda was the division between leaders who lived in Tunisia under Ben Ali's regime and those who lived in exile.

"It seems that Hamadi Jebali is in a strong and weak position at the same time; he's strong because many parties, including Nidaa Tounes, Ennahda's major rivals, have shown sympathy with his proposal, which seems to have won international support. At the same time, he is weak before Ennahda's broad bases that insist on having the sovereign ministries," Sidaoui said.

Meanwhile, Nidaa Tounes leader Béji Caid Essebsi warned against a division in the ruling party in an interview with Algeria's El Khabar daily published on Monday.

"A division in Ennahda at this particular time is a very negative indicator and won't help fix the situation Tunisia is now in," Caid Essebsi said.

"With all political responsibility, I say if this happens, it'll be dangerous," he continued. "Tunisia will not benefit from a split in the ruling party. The current circumstances are critical and would require everyone to be quite, prudent and not to rush things. Tunisia needs unity rather than splits."

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