Ghannouchi calls for dialogue to end Tunisia crisis in op-ed
Tunisia’s Speaker of Parliament and leader of the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party, Rached El-Ghannouchi, has warned that the legacy of the country's 2011 Arab Spring revolution is under threat in a new opinion piece for the UK newspaper The Independent.
In the piece, Ghannouchi called on the international community "to stand with Tunisia's democracy".
On 25 July, Tunisian President Kais Saied sacked Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and dismissed the parliament, lifting immunity for MPs and sending tanks and soldiers to close the parliament building.
The move has been widely described as a coup, although - in an apparently conciliatory gesture - Ghannouchi refrained from using this word in his article. He instead described the president's moves as a "power grab".
"We know how such power grabs usually end. We have already seen the storming of media offices, preventing journalists from reporting, the sacking of ministers and regional governors, the placing under house arrests of judges and political leaders, and the wholesale travel bans on judges, lawyers, politicians, businessmen and civil society activists," he wrote.
Among the measures taken by Saied was the closing of the offices of the pan-Arab TV station Al-Jazeera and the detention of a number of MPs and Ennahda officials critical of his move.
Ghannouchi called on the president to engage in dialogue to end Tunisia's political crisis.
"Dialogue has helped us before in 2013 when we overcame a very serious political crisis. The president so far has rejected calls for dialogue but we hope that wisdom will prevail in the end," he wrote.
He added that Saied should not renew his 30-day suspension of parliament and also nominate a new prime minister and government to be approved by the parliament.
Saied's power grab has led to internal divisions within the Ennahda Party, with some members criticising the party's past agreements with politicians seen as corrupt and calling on Ghannouchi to step down as leader.
Last week, in a major shift in policy, the party issued a statement saying that Saied's power grab could be turned into "a stage of the democratic transition" of Tunisia.
In his article, Ghannouchi acknowledged that prior to Saied’s power grab, there was public anger in Tunisia over the economy and handling of Covid-19.
"Tunisians are right to be angry - the promise of the Tunisian revolution has not yet been realised after ten years of transition. Our economy has been weakened by a series of shocks, and has been further devastated by the effects of Covid-19," he wrote.
Tunisians, he said, were "frustrated by the in-fighting between leaders, who should be focusing on tackling these challenges".
However, the Ennahda leader added that "economies fluctuate and can be reformed – but freedoms, once taken away, are very hard to win back".
"For 10 years, we have tried to build a democratic, prosperous country fit for the Tunisian people who courageously rose in the face of dictatorship in 2011 to demand their rights… What we have created is not perfect but it offers the best chance of a better Tunisia," he said.
Prior to Saied’s power grab, Tunisia was widely considered to be the only Arab country to have successfully established a democratic system of government in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.