Tunisian parliament speaker Rached Ghannouchi on Thursday called for a “peaceful struggle” against a return to “absolute one-man government”, a day after President Kais Saied moved towards government by decree.
“There is no longer any alternative to the struggle, naturally a peaceful struggle,” said the leader of the Islamist-inspired party Ennahdha in an interview with AFP.
Saied on Wednesday announced decrees strengthening the powers of his office to the detriment of the government and parliament.
Ghannouchi called the measures “a step backwards towards absolute one-man rule” a decade after the Tunisian revolution of 2011.
“We call on the people to take part in peaceful actions to resist the dictatorship and bring Tunisia back to the path of democracy,” he said.
The new arrangements come nearly two months after the president sacked the Ennahdha-backed government of Hichem Mechichi and suspended parliament, posing as the ultimate interpreter of the constitution.
Ennahdha, the largest party in the divided legislature, condemned the July 25 measures as a “coup” and a violation of the country’s hard-won 2014 constitution.
While many Tunisians supported Saied’s movements out of frustration with the political system, some observers saw them as a setback for the only democracy to emerge from the uprisings of the Arab Spring.
Ghannouchi, 80, camped for 12 hours outside parliament in Tunis after Saied took power.
“The situation is worse now than it was before July 25,” he said in Thursday’s interview.
Prior to that, “there had been no arrests for blog posts, no thousands of Tunisians banned from leaving the country”.
Tunisia has experienced years of political stalemate since its 2011 revolution, with tense coalitions and fleeting governments proving unable to resolve pressing social and economic crises.
The 2019 elections produced another fragmented parliament which once again allowed Ennahdha to dominate the government.
The resulting legislative deadlock, crippling a country hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, meant that Saied’s takeover in July received significant public support.
But civil society groups have warned of a slide towards authoritarianism that would wipe out Tunisia’s democratic gains a decade after the revolution toppled longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
“The president went back to before the revolution,” Ghannouchi said.
He said his party was ready to work with all parties to restore democracy in Tunisia.
Ghannouchi founded Ennahdha four decades ago and has remained at the helm ever since despite years of exile under the Ben Ali dictatorship.
“Harsh methods and violence”
After the fall of Ben Ali in the 2011 revolution, Ennahdha made a comeback in politics and has since been part of all parliamentary coalitions, supporting the country’s series of ephemeral governments.
But the party clashed with Saied, a former law scholar who fiercely opposes Ennahdha and the Tunisian party system, calling instead for a form of decentralization.
“The president has convictions that he expressed before taking office: his vision of popular government, his rejection of … political parties, of parliaments. It is his choice, his right,” Ghannouchi said.
“But it’s not his right to use harsh methods and violence.”
Ennahdha is the most organized party in the deeply fragmented 217-seat legislature, which is also led by Ghannouchi.
But since 2014, the party’s share of votes has fallen.
He has also experienced internal fractures in recent years, with young limbs demanding changes at the top, including the replacement of Ghannouchi himself.
“The only positive aspect of the president’s decisions is that they will unify Ennahdha with other political parties and unify Ennahdha himself,” Ghannouchi said.
When asked if his party would participate in the elections if Saied called them, he replied, “We would participate, absolutely.”