I learned about the news of the three-year prison sentence handed to Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of the Ennahda Movement, during my trip to Morocco. Since I had recently visited Tunisia as well, I had the opportunity to assess the political atmosphere in different countries of the Maghreb region and compare them with each other. Moreover, I had visited Ghannouchi at his home during one of my previous trips to Tunisia and had interviewed him. (During that interview, he had responded to my questions about the course of the Arab Spring with such hopeful and optimistic answers that I couldn't help but be surprised.) When someone you have been following for years and have finally met in person is convicted in a completely political and subjective case in his old age, both his entire political journey and life trajectory become clear in your mind, and your emotions inevitably become involved.
As I walked through the streets of Rabat, I pondered on the steps Rachid Ghannouchi had taken in Tunisia from 2011 to the present:
Immediately after the overthrow of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, amidst the secularists' propaganda that "Islamists will not grant anyone the right to life," he returned to his country from years of exile. While all eyes were on Tunisia, dubbed the "cradle of the Arab Spring," the elections held there brought the Ennahda Movement to power, but Ghannouchi, instead of taking any official position, remained on the sidelines, maintaining his position as a "wise man." The high expectations with which the Ennahda government began in Tunisia, struggling with economic crisis, social unrest, and record-high unemployment, soon led to dissatisfaction; simultaneously, two of the country's leading leftist leaders fell victim to assassinations, and terrorist attacks brought tourism to the brink of collapse. Reading the situation with deep insight, Ghannouchi positioned his party as "one of the coalition partners governing the country" after the 2014 general elections. Ghannouchi, who redefined Ennahda as "Muslim democrat" rather than an "Islamic movement," supported Kais Saied, known as a "legal expert," in the 2019 presidential elections. Saied, who won the trust of Ennahda and other mainstream parties, was elected president with over 70% of the vote. What followed is well-known and tragic: Saied, who was supported with the belief that he would respect the law, turned out to be a complete autocratic despot from within and suspended democratic rules in Tunisia entirely, establishing his own dominance. The country regressed to the era of Ben Ali.
Last year, during Ramadan, Rachid Ghannouchi was detained at his home and faced numerous charges, but two in particular were highlighted: inciting violent acts and receiving financial support from foreign sources. Any observer following Ghannouchi and Ennahda would certainly realize that these accusations are nonsense. However, since the lawsuits against Ghannouchi are themselves political traps, seeking logic and consistency in the charges is unnecessary.
It is no secret that some Arab governments, which bracketed the Ennahda Movement as "political Islam," were uncomfortable with the line represented by Rachid Ghannouchi. Over time, while Ennahda was transitioning from "Islamic movement" to "Muslim democrat," it seems that all these ideological transformations led by Ghannouchi failed to alleviate the anger of those Arab regimes.
What is interesting and thought-provoking, however, is this: Throughout its period of influence and power in Tunisia, the Ennahda Movement did not contribute to solving any serious problems in the country. This was not only due to the movement's lack of political experience but also because of the deeply rooted structural problems in Tunisia that had been plaguing the state for decades. The movement, from the beginning, portrayed an image of being "based on a charismatic leader," and no name emerged to replace Ghannouchi on the scene. Therefore, there is no situation that would suggest that "Some countries are afraid of the magnificent success story in Tunisia." Additionally, some balances in the Middle East and North Africa are different now: Turkey has improved its relations with various countries. The blockade and isolation against Qatar have been lifted. The Muslim Brotherhood is no longer seen as a "threat"...
Therefore, it may not be futile to ask the following questions and seek their answers: What is the fault of Rachid Ghannouchi? Why such a heavy sentence for a 82-year-old sick man?