Monday, March 4, 2013

Tunisian Ruling Party Ennahda Refuses to Sign Good Governance Charter

Ennahda party logo

At a meeting held by the Arab Institute of Human Rights, Tunisia’s journalism school (IPSI) and German Institute Konrad Adenauer on February 27, 2013, Tunisia's Ennahda party refused to sign a charter on good governance that other parties say aims to organize political activities and interactions between parties in a democratic way.  The document calls for rules of fair competition and political neutralization of mosques and schools.  Twenty-seven other parties signed the charter, applauding its democratic aims.  Representatives of Ennahda’s Shura Council explained that several articles in the document caused them concern, specifically the omission of unions from the list of organizations to be depoliticized.  

In the months leading up to the country’s first elections after Ben Ali’s departure, Ennahda gained a significant following in the mosques and rural regions of Tunisia that other parties lacked.  With secular parties largely divided in a fight for dominance, Ennahda consolidated much of the vote by pushing forth a vision of Tunisian government inspired by the codes and ethics of Islam.  They were religious enough to appeal to those throughout the country following the quickly-growing trend of Salafism, and moderate enough to appeal to traditional (but not religiously extreme) voters.  An interim government was put in place in Tunisia and a constituent assembly was elected on October 23, 2011 for the original purpose of drafting a new constitution within the year.  Ennahda won 41 percent of the seats.  Needing a majority of votes, Ennahda joined The Congress for the Republic (CPR) and Ettakatol to form the winning coalition of political parties known as the Troika.  The Troika held 64 percent of the Constituent Assembly seats overall and divided positions of leadership and control of governmental departments amongst themselves.

Today, many Tunisians have grown frustrated with the lack of progress made by the coalition government.  The state is without a constitution, the assembly is gridlocked, and the economy is stagnant.  Rumors of Ennahda’s strong alliance to violent religious groups were proven when a video secretly taped at a meeting between Ennahda officials and Salafist leaders was leaked.  The video shows Ennahda party leader Rachid Ghannouchi attempting to placate Islamists, telling them a soft transition to a religious government was more strategic than an outright religious takeover, but would accomplish the same end.  The assassination of Chokri Belaid, leader of the Democratic Patriots’ Movement, caused political chaos in the country.  Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali of Ennahda resigned and furthered the political disorder by going against his party and calling for a dissolution of government and new constituent assembly elections.  While no hard facts link Belaid’s assassination to Ennahda, many Tunisians blame Ennahda for allowing the political climate to come to a state where such an event would take place.

Ennahda seems to be trying to play by some of the rules of democracy while failing to adhere to fair practices as they look to future elections.  Their reasoning for rejecting the charter on good governance (arguing against the exclusion of unions) seems to be a straw man fallacy that ignores the true roots of political violence, extremism and unfair electoral practices in Tunisia.  In fact, their use of this excuse is insulting, considering that Belaid was shot on the way to the headquarters of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT).  

The party’s refusal to sign the charter on good governance is a red flag to the process of democratization in the country.  As Noueihed and Warren note (pg 95), Tunisia’s potential to become a democracy is largely dependent on internal parties rather than external players.  I believe popular sentiment against Ennahda has risen, but the party will not easily loosen its hold on power, and may resort to undemocratic means to keep it.  Tunisians are continuing to exercise their will through nonviolent protest, and I do not expect such activity to end until new, free and fair elections are held.

Works Cited:

Hlaoui, Noureddine. "Tunisia Assassination Puts Country at Crossroads." Al-Monitor. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2013. <>

Lehiani, Othman. "Tunisian Secular Leader Warns of Technocrat Government." Al-Monitor. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2013. <>

Noueihed, Lin, and Alex Warren. The Battle for the Arab Spring: Revolution, Counter-revolution and the Making of a New Era. New Haven: Yale UP, 2012. Print.

Samti, Farah. "Ennahdha Refuses to Sign Good Governance Charter." Tunisia Live. N.p., 28 Feb. 2013. Web. 04 Mar. 2013. <>

"Tunisia Coalition Agrees Top Government Posts." BBC News. BBC, 21 Nov. 2011. Web. 04 Mar. 2013. <>

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