Tunis — As Tunisia's political crisis drags on, the ruling Islamist party remains split over a proposed cabinet shakeup.
Tunisia's ruling Ennahda party on Sunday (February 17th) reiterated its rejection of Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali's proposed technocratic cabinet, Shems FM reported.
Ennahda favoured a coalition government with the possible inclusion of the Republican Party, Fathi Ayadi, chairman of the Islamist party's Shura Council, told the radio station. However, Ennahda opposed forming a government with opposition party Nidaa Tounes, Ayadi said.
"The initiative of a government of technocrats does not meet the needs of the present time," AFP quoted a Shura Council statement as saying.
The Shura Council statement came a day after thousands rallied in downtown Tunis to voice support for the Ennahda-led government.
Ennahda chief Rachid Ghannouchi told the demonstrators that his party was the "backbone of Tunisia", adding that its exclusion would "undermine national unity of the country".
"The conflict in Tunisia is a conflict between supporters and enemies of the revolution from the former regime," Ghannouchi declared. "The government of national competencies called for by the head of the interim government Hamadi Jebali is a coup against the legitimacy of the Constituent Assembly."
Speaking in front of thousands of his supporters and under a banner that read "national unity and support for legitimacy", Ghannouchi said Ennahda would not give up power and that the party condemned violence in all forms.
He also had sharp words for Prime Minister Jebali.
"Anyone digressing from the institutions of the movement and its Shura Council in particular is jumping into the void and will revert to a small size," Ghannouchi said.
His statements came a day after another senior Ennahda leader openly disagreed with his handling of the situation.
In an interview with French newspaper Marianne, Abdelfatah Mourou criticised Ghannouchi's policy and his rejection of Jebali's initiative. The non-partisan initiative is backed by many in the country such as the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), the Tunisian Union of Industry and Commerce and the opposition.
At Saturday's demonstration, the protesters came by bus from various provinces and chanted slogans against the opposition parties, insulted Nidaa Tounes and demanded "the maintenance of Ennahda ministers in their positions". The protesters rejected the plan from Prime Minister Jebali, himself a son of the Islamist movement.
"I came today to demonstrate in support of legitimacy and to reject any coup by the head of the government," Gafsa resident Mohamed Soud told Magharebia.
Meanwhile, opposition activists considered the march a defence of Ennahda's government ministers and their grip on power, which is at stake after the assassination of opposition leader Chokri Belaid.
The rally sparked varied reactions among citizens who wondered about its usefulness at a time when there is significant tension between the political parties.
"I think that this march marked the beginning of the end for Ennahda Movement because the hawks of the movement realised that their plans to divide Tunisians and force them into a cycle of violence have failed," Maya Bellagha told Magharebia.
She added, "I think that Ennahda and its partners from the Congress Party for the Republic have as a goal to hold onto power, and their last concern is the people."
"Frankly I am surprised at citizens coming to march and demanding the continuation of the work of the government; after all, the president proved that the government failed to achieve the benefits of the revolution," commented Mourad Rouis, 33.
"People should come out instead to denounce violence, price increases and the proliferation of arms and terrorism," he added.