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Tunisia: Rached Ghannouchi, the wrong choice

Béchir Ben Yahmed
By Béchir Ben Yahmed

Béchir Ben Yahmed founded Jeune Afrique on 17 October 1960 in Tunis. He is Chairman of the Jeune Afrique Group.

Posted on Wednesday, 27 November 2019 06:50

Rached Ghannouchi, leader of Tunisia's moderate Islamist Ennahda party, attends the parliament's opening with a session to elect a speaker, in Tunis, Tunisia November 13, 2019. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

Wednesday, November 13, 2019 will remain a fateful date for Tunisia. On that day, in this African and Mediterranean country of 11.5m inhabitants, Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the country's Islamists, was elected Speaker of the Assembly of People's Representatives (ARP).

He’s  no longer on the fringes, but at the heart of power. And, in principle, for five years. The 78-year-old man, wily and manipulative, refuses to express himself in any language other than Arabic, which he has a moderate command of.

Despite living in London as a refugee for almost twenty years, he does not speak fluent English. His compatriots have learned to use French to communicate with the outside world, but Ghannouchi refuses to do so. Diplomats accredited to Tunis and other foreigners communicate with him only through an interpreter.

Raised in Great Britain, Ghannouchi’s children speak English very well, while he himself is a 19th century man transplanted into modern Tunisia who remains focused on tactics.

Under the supervision, it is said, of Turkey’s leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who claims to be the supreme leader of the Islamists, including Egypt’s “Muslim Brotherhood”, Ghannouchi is more willing to defend the interests of his party, Ennahdha, than those of Tunisia.

Habib Bourguiba, father of independence, founder of the Republic and modernizer of the country, used all available means to keep this type of man out of power, including less democratic measures.

A century of regression

His successor, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, did the same, but even more brutally. They must be turning in their graves to see Ghannouchi running Tunisia’s parliament.

It means that the Tunisian Islamists, who wanted to infiltrate the workings of the State, have finally reached the heart of Tunisian power in 2019. How can they be democratically dislodged? How long will it take? Probably years.

By allowing Ghannouchi to become the Speaker of the Assembly, Tunisia has regressed by a century; it has become, or risks becoming, like one of those backward Middle Eastern countries who waste their time in endless medieval quarrels.

Tunisian Islamists and their Ennahdha formation have shown over the past nine years that they lack leaders who are capable of governing a modern country.

They have unduly increased the number of civil servants, undermining the administration and unbalancing the State budget.

They have doubled the country’s debt, bringing it to an unsustainable level. They have also encouraged inflation and unemployment, terrorism and corruption.

Turkish interference

Tunisia, which was formerly independent, has become subservient to the whims and ambition of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who dreams of rebuilding Turkey as an empire.

Those who suffer from Turkish interference in Tunisian affairs and who have the power to identify the disgraceful modalities of such interference must inform the justice system in their country.

Tunisian Islamists and their Ennahdha formation include invaluable people and patriots among their ranks. They, therefore, have their place on the country’s political scene. But, for the time being, the opposition, who are far from power, don’t have the strength to influence or effectively oppose the executive.

Their behaviour over the past nine years and their post-election schemes over recent days, known or suspected by Tunisians, largely confirm the sentiment of the best observers: Tunisia would be better off if it were governed without them.

But the newly elected Assembly seems to have decided to take the opposite path for the sake of convenience. Like the previous Assembly, it will try to govern with Ennahdha, perhaps even under his direction.

History seems doomed to repeat itself.

Scheduled to fail

The new political system – which exists in name only – is therefore heading for failure. The previous administration – Assembly, President, and Head of Government combined – cost Tunisia five years and pushed it into economic and financial dependence.

I do not think that the country will be able to endure another five-year period of waste,  and that Tunisians will have the patience to wait until their politicians realize that they have taken the wrong path. We are therefore heading towards a disastrous future.

In any case, it seems inconceivable to me that the legislative elections should not bring any change, that the previous five-year period should be repeated, and that the only real change should be limited to that of a new president.

Kaïs Saïed was elected president by Tunisians who want change; they want this change to be real, profound and rapid.

They will find it difficult to accept that a system they rejected will be reimposed on them. And that it will be personified by Rached Ghannouchi.

 

This article first appeared in Jeune Afrique.

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