More than 100 members of Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda party resign citing poor leadership

Seven MPs and several former ministers were among the 113 who quit

Tunisians wave their national flag and the flag of the Ennahda Islamist party as they gather on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in Tunis on January 14, 2018. AFP
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More than 100 members of Tunisia’s largest party, Ennahda – including MPs and former ministers – resigned on Saturday in protest at the leadership’s performance, the party has confirmed to The National.

The 113 members said their resignation was motivated by its isolation and inability to bring in reforms they say could have averted Kais Saied’s decision to sack the government and suspend Parliament on July 25.

Among the resignations are seven MPs, 10 members of the party’s Shura council and several former ministers.

They include Abdellatif Mekki, a former minister of health who in recent weeks had made attempts to dialogue with President Saied but was rebuffed. Others are members of local or regional offices, in Tunisia and abroad.

“I feel deeply sad ... I feel the pain of separation ... but I have no choice after I tried for a long time, especially in recent months ... I take responsibility for the decision that I made for my country,” Mr Mekki posted on Facebook.

Ennahda was a major target of public anger during nationwide protests on July 25 over the government’s mishandling of the economy, corruption and Covid-19. Since its resurgence after the 2011 uprising, the party has dominated the Tunisian political landscape and held the majority of seats in Parliament.

The unrest prompted Mr Saied to invoke extraordinary measures and send the army to block the gates of Parliament.

Assembly Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, who co-founded Ennahda in the 1980s, tried to mobilise opposition protests in response, but with little success. Rifts within the party widened as a result.

In August, Ennahda MP Yamina Zoghlami, told The National that many members increasingly felt the party’s leadership was out of touch with the people whose anguish had driven them on to the streets.

“The leadership of the movement of Ennahda and Professor Ghannouchi did not understand their message,” she said. “We’ve entered a phase of failure and the reaction of the angry people made this clear.”

Members of Ennahda called for Mr Ghannouchi to step down after his response to the events of July 25. Instead, last month he dismissed the party’s executive committee.

Many of the members who resigned today had called for a softer stance towards Mr Saied’s emergency measures, with a hope of being invited to the table for dialogue, said Radwan Masmoudi, a member of the Ennahda party and president of the Centre for the Study of Islam & Democracy.

“They said, let’s find bridges with Kais Saied and let’s dialogue with him. And even if he refuses dialogue, let’s not confront him. Let’s not call people out into the streets. Let other people defend democracy, and let us focus on rebuilding our party.”

Last month, the party leadership issued a statement acknowledging “the whole of the political class [is] responsible” for the public's anger and calling for apologies and acknowledgement of mistakes.

But on Wednesday, Mr Saied issued a sweeping presidential order that consolidated his power and enables him to rule by decree. It also terminated the salaries and benefits of MPs, essentially sacking the legislative body.

This bold move threw the political class into turmoil. Ennahda issued a forceful statement affirming their stance that Mr Saied’s actions constitute a coup. This sentiment was echoed by several other parties.

Mr Masmoudi said the move made clear “there is no more possibility for dialogue”, and that, while profound reforms are needed within the party, Ennahda’s main objective should be to mobilise people and “restore democracy”.

“The political system we have created in the last 10 years has not solved the real problems of the people,” he said. “The needed reforms aren’t going to be easy, but they need to be discussed in dialogue and agreed upon.”

Updated: September 25, 2021, 7:13 PM