The wealth under suspect of Rached Ghannouchi

Tunisian activists launch an initiative to monitor the heritage of the leader of Ennahdha, the country's main Islamist formation
Tunisian Islamist Ennahdha party leader Rached Ghannouchi

AFP/FETHI BELAID  -   Tunisian Islamist Ennahdha party leader Rached Ghannouchi

Where did the vast wealth of Rached Ghannouchi come from? This is what an initiative launched by Tunisian activist Anis al-Mansouri is trying to find out. So far, more than 5,000 people have already signed the petition which, under the slogan 'Time to change', seeks to throw some light on the heritage treasured by the Speaker of Parliament and leader of the Islamist party Ennahdha.

According to the daily Al-Ain, Ghannouchi's total wealth can only be established on the basis of a wide range of estimates. The Emirati media claims that his assets are somewhere between 1 and 8 billion dollars, an amount that has increased exponentially since the veteran politician returned from exile in 2011. Al-Mansouri's initiative aims to investigate how his assets have increased so much in recent years.

To this end, he proposes setting up an independent committee, unconnected with politics, which would include representatives of the Tunisian General Labour Union, the country's main workers' association, the Employers' Union, the Association for the Defence of Human Rights, the Tunisian Anti-Corruption Authority and the Central Bank, among others. 

Manifestación contra el Gobierno islamista de Ennahdha en noviembre de 2013 en Túnez
AFP/FETHI BELAID - Demonstration against the Islamist Ennahdha government in November 2013 in Tunisia

"We only ask for financial transparency in political and governmental circles, as it is not reasonable for a person to enter politics and, once he gets government or party positions, become a rich person," Al-Mansouri explains to Al-Ain.

Indeed, although Ghannouchi has been a recognizable face in Tunisian politics for decades, he was not in power until after the citizen protests that ended Zin al-Abidine Ben Ali's dictatorship in 2011. Until then, he had been in London for two decades.

Since his return to the North African country, Ghannouchi has managed to position himself as one of the most powerful figures in the country; a leader whom the Tunisian Islamist movement itself, very close to the global trend of the Muslim Brotherhood, has enveloped in an aura of invulnerability that has left no room for investigations into possible cases of corruption.

However, its wealth has been, for years, a kind of open secret; a taboo whose existence is known to everyone, but of which no one dares to speak openly. What is most striking is that Ghannouchi, according to Al-Ain, has never been known to be more occupied than in his positions within Ennahdha and his role as a public figure. His advocates have often claimed that his resources come from selling books, but his detractors cast doubt on that assumption. Many secularist and progressive opposition parties have already drawn attention more than once to the suspected income of the Islamist leader.

Fotografía de archivo de una manifestación para conmemorar el 40º día de luto tras la muerte del líder de la oposición antiislámica Chokri Belaid el 16 de marzo de 2013
AFP/ FETHI BELAID - Archive photo of a demonstration to commemorate the 40th day of mourning following the death of anti-Islamic opposition leader Chokri Belaid on 16 March 2013
Connections with the Brotherhood

Activist Mourad Nouri points to large sums of money that have come to Tunisia, mainly from Qatar and Turkey, to finance the activity of the Muslim Brothers. Most of these transactions are camouflaged as remittances sent to charitable or Quranic teaching institutions. Zubair al-Shahoudi, former secretary general of the Brotherhood in Tunisia, accused Ghannouchi and his family of getting rich by diverting these types of funds.

Large capital transfers from charities are a common modus operandi for actors engaged in providing economic sustenance to Islamist groups. Thus, Qatar has a long history of funding not only the Muslim Brotherhood, but even Jihadist terrorist groups. It should be recalled that the Brotherhood, despite being considered a terrorist organisation in Egypt, its country of origin, has not generated a strong consensus on its designation as such.

Abdelfattah Mourou, vicepresidente del partido islamista Ennahda (izq.), con el líder de la formación Rached Ghannouchi
AFP/ FETHI BELAID - Abdelfattah Mourou, vice-president of the Islamist Ennahda party, with the leader of the Rached Ghannouchi formation

In any case, what is known with certainty is that the influential figure of Ghannouchi has been key to the take-off of the Islamist agenda in his home country. From his position as president of the Assembly of People's Representatives, the only chamber of the Tunisian Parliament, he has significantly favoured the legislative action of Ennahdha, which, on the other hand, is the first group in number of seats.

In this way, its influence has also been transferred to the decisions of the presidency, held since 2019 by Kaïs Saied. Perhaps, where its preponderance has been most noted is in the position taken by the head of state with respect to the war in neighbouring Libya. Although, in theory, Tunisia has tried to show that it is willing to mediate between the Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Libyan National Army (LNA), in practice things have been different.

El presidente tunecino Kais Saied estrecha la mano de su homólogo turco Recep Tayyip Erdogan durante una conferencia de prensa conjunta en el palacio presidencial de Cartago, al este de Túnez, el 25 de diciembre de 2019
AFP/FETHI BELAID - Tunisian President Kais Saied shakes hands with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a joint press conference at the presidential palace in Carthage, eastern Tunisia, on 25 December 2019

Over the last few months, Saied has gravitated towards Fayez Sarraj's GNA. This is no coincidence: this administration, based in Tripoli, is home to many senior officials who are affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood. Its main financial support has been Qatar and, on the ground, Turkey has moved troops and thousands of Syrian fighters to defend its interests. The Ankara government has on more than one occasion used Tunisian transport infrastructures, such as ports and airports, to introduce arms smuggled to its partners on the Libyan front. 

Ghannouchi, Al-Ain reports, has been the key piece in this puzzle. His ties with Turkey and Qatar are growing stronger. At the same time, suspicions about his impressive fortune, amassed in the last decade, are also growing, coinciding with a period of strength of the Islamist movement in the entire Middle East region. It remains to be seen whether Al-Mansouri's proposed committee will prosper. It will not be easy, but if it does, it will be a major blow to the Islamist project in Tunisia.