The Muslim Brotherhood, the great winners from Tunisian Prime Minister's resignation

The Egyptian-born organization has made significant progress in its project to supplant the Tunisian state, which could get a final boost from the upcoming political crisis
El primer ministro tunecino Elyes Fakhfakh, el 15 de julio de 2020

AFP/FETHI BELAID  -   Tunisian Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh, 15 July 2020

This Wednesday afternoon it was consummated what already was in the air: the Prime Minister of Tunisia, Elyes Fakhfakh, presented his resignation to the President of the country, Kais Saied, after a meeting in the Palace of Carthage in which the Secretary General of the largest Tunisian trade union UGTT, Noureddine Tabboubi, was also present, and the President of Parliament and leader of the Ennahdha party, Rached Ghannouchi, was at the center of the controversy. 

According to the local media, the now former head of government has resigned from office after being embroiled in a corruption scandal over the awarding of public contracts to private companies in which he held shares. However, he always denied his involvement, which leaves the door open to the incessant pressure he has been under from the main political force in Parliament, the Islamist Ennahdha party with links to the Muslim Brotherhood, an organisation that was born in Egypt and is considered a terrorist by much of the Arab world, including his home country. 

Just a week ago, the political group threatened to submit a motion of censure that could bring down the Tunisian government. However, its 54 seats were not enough to start the proceedings, so it was forced to turn to other parties with a presence in the Assembly, such as the second force in the chamber, Qalb Tounès (Heart of Tunisia), led by media magnate - also a presidential candidate while in custody for money laundering - Nabil Karoui; and Al Karama (Dignity Stream party), a Salafist group headed by ultraconservative Seifeddine Makhlouf, a defender of the application of the Sharia. An explosive cocktail which resulted in the motion procedure, a few hours before the resignation of the Prime Minister, with the presentation of a proposal with 105 signatures, only four more than those needed to be admitted to the Parliament.  

Sesión parlamentaria en el parlamento de Túnez
AFP/FETHI BELAID - Parliamentary session in the parliament of Tunisia

The result was Fakhfakh's resignation five months after taking office, leading to a significant political crisis in the country and forcing the president to appoint a new head of government, which must be ratified by an absolute majority of deputies. The problem is that he has just 30 days -which could be prolonged for an equal period- to seek understanding in the Assembly, completely fragmented after last October's legislative elections: more than 20 different formations to which independent deputies with their own agendas are added. 

This chaotic scenario proves to be very attractive to the most insurgent and extremist groups, which make confusion and disarray their best chance to impose their interests and their programmes by taking advantage of the absence of power. The Muslim Brotherhood, whose political arm in Tunisia is represented by Ennahdha, enters the scene at this point, as it has been repeatedly denounced by the opposition forces, such as the one led by the lawyer Abir Moussi, also leader of the Free Desturian Party (PDL), who last June announced her party would present a new draft resolution to classify the Brotherhood as a "terrorist organisation" and a movement considered "hostile to the civil state". "When I consult Ennahda's proclamations calling for Islamist loyalty to the doctrine of the Muslim Brotherhood, we see that it is time for us to submit a draft motion classifying the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization," said she at the time. 

She also called for the prosecution of any Tunisian natural or legal person linked to the organisation under the Anti-Terrorism Law adopted in 2015, and asked to withdraw confidence from the President of Parliament, Rached Ghannouchi, due to his links with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Abir Moussi, líder del Partido Desturiano Libre
AFP/FETHI BELAID - Abir Moussi, leader of the Free Destourian Party

The Ennahdha leader has become one of the most powerful people in the country in recent years, mainly after he returned from a two-decade exile in London during the Ben Ali government. His sympathy for the Brotherhood began in the Syrian capital, Damascus, during his time as a student at that nation's university. According to the book Rachid Ghannouchi: A Democrat Within Islamism (2001) by Azzam S. Tamimi, the current leader of the Assembly was influenced by one of his professors, Adib Salah, who initiated him into the Islamist movement to such an extent that on June 15, 1966, Ghannouchi embraced "original Islam" and renounced both "secular nationalism" and "traditional Islam". His entire career has been marked by one objective: an Islamic state, although it is true that he moderated his aspirations - promoting, for example, gender equality or showing a certain tolerance towards "liberal moral attitudes" - over time with the aim of gaining more and more followers, as demonstrated by Ennahdha' s victory in the 2019 elections. 

Nevertheless, his radical origins have not disappeared. Ghannouchi and his team have recently confronted a number of controversies with accusations of collaborating with the Muslim Brotherhood, which continues to pursue an extremist agenda in the MENA region - Middle East and North Africa. For example, the source of their wealth, estimated at $1-8 billion according to Al-Ain media, is unknown, although some activists in the country link it to the "large sums of money that have come into Tunisia, mainly from Qatar and Turkey, to finance Muslim Brotherhood activity," as analyst Pablo Rubio notes in Atalayar.

Another recent movement arousing suspicion is the imposition of 'zakat' in a few places in the country, such as Al-Karam, near the capital. This is the mechanism for tax collection which "has been observed in traditional Islamic societies" and is prescribed by the Koran as "one of the pillars of the faith", according to Rubio. "Why is it significant that Ennahdha has taken this step in a small town? Basically, this movement suggests the willingness of the party leaders to undermine the country's secularized institutions and replace them with others where religion and public power go hand in hand. Moreover, the money collected through zakat is not subject to any control by the administration. For this reason, such a mechanism could serve to camouflage money flows into the country from other members of the Brotherhood around the world without being monitored," the analyst writes in Atalayar. 

El líder del partido islamista Ennahdha, Rached Ghannouchi
PHOTO/KHALED NASRAOUI - The leader of the Islamist Ennahdha party, Rachid Ghannouchi

The Islamist party and its leader have also been accused of taking part in the Libyan civil war, initiated in 2011, between the National Liberation Army (LNA) and the Government of National Accord (GNA). The latter side, supported by Turkey, Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood with financing and sending arms and mercenaries to the conflict, is linked to Ghannouchi, who has been in contact with prominent members of the governments of Ankara and Doha "to favor the interests of the Libyan Islamists present in the GNA," Rubio said.

This move by Ennahdha's leader has opened a gap with the country's presidency, which sought to maintain a neutral stance on the neighboring nation's conflict. However, some actions have been known to question it, such as the use of the Tunisian port of La Goulette by Turkish army ships that were supposed to carry out operations in the framework of the Libyan war or the meetings held between Kais Saied and the president of the Eurasian nation, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in which the latter allegedly asked him for additional support for the GNA. 

Los diputados tunecinos durante una sesión plenaria dedicada a debatir una moción presentada por el Partido Desturiano Libre y la situación en Libia, el 3 de junio de 2020
AFP/FETHI BELAID - Tunisian MPs during a plenary session to discuss a motion tabled by the Free Destourian Party and the situation in Libya, 3 June 2020

In any case, the Tunisian leader is facing a difficult task: to find a candidate to replace Fakhfakh without being drawn into the net of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has recently made significant progress in its project to replace the Tunisian state. It is difficult, because needing an absolute majority in Parliament requires the approval of the majority formation, Ennahdha, and now that he has "achieved" this political victory, he will push for a like-minded candidate to help him complete his Islamist agenda. If after 60 days Saied's aspirant to head the government does not gain the confidence of the chamber, he will have to call elections, which would reopen a period of political instability and uncertainty that would also benefit the Muslim Brotherhood. Whatever happens, whether a new prime minister enters or elections are held, the Egyptian organisation is likely to win.