113 members of Tunisia's Islamist Ennhada formation resign en masse

Former health minister Abdul Latif al-Makki and other senior party officials are among the 100 or so resigning party members unhappy with Ghannouchi's leadership
Rachid Ghannouchi

PHOTO/AP  -   The president of the Islamist Ennahda party Rached Ghannouchi

The influence of the Islamist party Ennhada is evaporating in Tunisia. The largest political party in parliament is going through a huge identity crisis that has led to the resignation of 113 members on Saturday. The internal haemorrhaging has broken out after two months out of power and has dragged with it, among others, the former Minister of Health, Abdul Latif al-Makki, and MP Samir Dello. Two of the party's most influential figures.

In a letter to the Ennhada leadership, the resigning members attributed their decision to the organisation's paralysis, exacerbated by a lack of internal reform. The strong leadership of Rachid Ghannouchi, the assembly's president, has been challenged in recent months, and he has faced continuous calls for his resignation from within his ranks for his ill-advised strategic decisions since the 2019 election victory.

In 2020, more than a hundred Islamist militants wrote to endorse Ghannouchi's rejection of a new mandate and threatened to resign en bloc if a congress was not convened before the end of the year to choose his successor. The document was made public and marked the biggest blow to the authority of the founder of the Renaissance Party after more than 30 uninterrupted years in office.

Rachid Ghannouchi
PHOTO/AP  -   The president of the Islamist Ennahda party Rached Ghannouchi

The congress did not take place. Instead, Ghannouchi decided to please the rank and file by dismissing all members of his executive committee in August. A move that neither satisfied his critics nor silenced the complaints against his mandate. Many within the organisation point to Ennhada's founder himself as the main culprit for the party's political isolation.

And it does not look as if the bleeding of casualties is about to stop. Samir Dello, a member of parliament, told the Tunisian radio station GEM on Saturday that further resignations are likely in the coming hours or days. By now, several MPs and senior members of the party have resigned from the party.

Former Islamist minister Al-Makki confirmed his resignation to Tuniscope, where he dedicated a few lines to his departure from the party: "I feel so sad / I feel the pain of separation, severe pain / But I had no choice after the long attempt, especially in recent months / I take responsibility for my decision, for my order / Greetings to my loved ones / We must face the coup for Tunisia".

Protestas Túnez
AFP/ FETHI BELAID  -  A Tunisian protester raises a flag cage during an anti-government demonstration on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in the capital Tunis on January 19, 2021

The resignationists accuse the leadership of the formation of having failed in its attempt to reform the country. A promise they succeeded with after achieving legalisation and returning from exile following the successful revolutionary outbreak of 2011, a process from which Tunisia emerged as the first country in the Arab world to achieve a democratic system.

Ennhada has been a member of every Tunisian government for the past decade, serving in coalition governments. However, the current state of Tunisia is far from what was expected. The country is going through a major social and economic crisis, aggravated by COVID-19 and the blow to tourism, which explains the loss of up to a million voters along the way.

Constitutional crisis

President Kais Saied's July coup d'état finally unravelled the party. He dissolved parliament, dismissed half the government and arrogated to himself full powers within a 30-day period that expired in August. All of this using Article 80 of the Constitution, a Magna Carta that he once helped draft but now wants to abolish.

Presidente Kais Saied
REUTERS/ZOUBEIR SOUISS  -  Kais Saied, President of Tunisia

The title states that the president of the Republic may adopt exceptional measures "in the event of imminent danger that threatens the institutions of the nation or the security or independence of the country, and that hinders the normal functioning of the state", after consultation with the president of the Assembly, a mediation that did not take place. This is a controversial area open to interpretation, but Saied had the backing of a large part of Tunisian society.

However, he did not have the support of Ennhada, which denounced the president's authoritarian drift. Saied has continued along this path and on Wednesday enacted a new law giving him legislative powers by decree law in some 30 areas. These prerogatives prompted Ghannouchi to accuse him of having 'de facto' suppressed the constitutional order

International organisations and the rest of the Tunisian opposition forces, with the exception of the most important, the General Union of Tunisian Workers, which has more than a million members in the country, have expressed their views in this sense.