The political crisis generated by Tunisian President Kais Saied sacking the government and dissolving parliament in July has caused great tremors within the country’s largest party, Ennahda. One hundred and thirteen prominent Ennahda members, among them former ministers and members of parliament, announced their resignation. In a statement they made, the group blamed the party’s leadership for not putting forth a strong enough initiative against Kais Saied’s coup, as their criticism pointed to Ennahda’s founder and leader Rached Ghannouchi— without mentioning any names, of course. Furthermore, the statement added that a unified and strong front able to stand against the coup had not been formed in Tunisia, dubbing it as a “political failure.”
Just before they tendered their resignations, President Saied made a fresh announcement, saying that, from here on forth, he would govern the country with decrees and, if necessary, suspend the constitution, rendering the future of the extraordinary process in Tunisia completely ambiguous. Saied is being accused of taking action with the guarantees of certain countries, particularly France and the United Arab Emirates.
Among the defecting Ennahda members is former Health Minister Abdul Latif al-Makki, who, in a social media post, said: "I feel so sad. But I had no choice after the long-winding attempt, especially in recent months. We must face the coup for Tunisia.”
The resigning Ennahda members, who find the party administration passive and helpless, draw attention to the fact that Rached Ghannouchi’s performance is less than satisfactory. Slamming Kais Saied’s actions as a “coup” from day one, Ghannouchi, much to the dismay of several party members, decided to adopt a more reconciliatory stance as time went on. Calling on the people of Tunisia to take to the streets that first night, he pulled back somewhat and decided that it would be more prudent to remain within the system after not getting the response expected from the public.
The simultaneous resignation of 113 members is the most serious internal crisis that the Ennahda Movement has faced since its establishment. It is also important that some of the names on the resignation list paid a great political price in the 1990s, when the party was declared public enemy No. 1 by the Tunisian state. For example, Abdul Latif al-Makki, born in 1962, was imprisoned for 10 years between 1991 and 2001 for his affiliation with Ennahda. Al-Makki, one of the founders of the university structure of Ennahda, assumed the position of health minister after the movement came to power in 2011.
The campaign launched by 100 Ennahda members last year in September against Ghannouchi running for party chair once more is still ingrained in everyone’s mind. It is possible to ascertain from the recent mass resignation that the opposition against Ghannouchi’s person within Ennahda has gradually become more and more organized.
The Ennahda Movement suffered another significant loss within its ranks on Dec. 10, 2014. Hamadi Jebali, who served as general secretary between 1981 and 2013 and was prime minister when the Ennahda Movement first came to power in Tunisia from 2011 to 2013, announced that he had resigned from the party. Jebali, who also managed Fajr weekly publication, in the 1980s, faced the wrath of the Tunisian state for his political stance, just like Abdul Latif al-Makki, spending 16 years in prison from 1990 to 2006. The reason for Jebali’s resignation was more or less the same as the latest resignations. He stated that Ennahda failed to correctly interpret the internal dynamics of Tunisia and that the logic that dominated the leadership needed to be altered. Jebali’s exit and departure from the party had a great impact both inside and outside Tunisia at that time.
The Ennahda Movement, whose foundations were laid in the early ‘70s, was transformed into a political party under the name of the "The Movement of Islamic Tendency" in 1981 and assumed its current name in 1989; however, it only managed to hold its first public congress in 2012. Throughout its 50-year history, the Ennahda experienced countless storms and hurricanes. The movement’s leader Rached Ghannouchi, thanks to his unique political style and close monitoring of the region’s developments, managed to sail the ship without sinking it as myriad tidal wives shook the Muslim world. However, it seems that dealing with his crew’s displeasure and complaints will be much harder than managing the crises of the not-so-distant past.