The religious smokescreen


The double-faced discourse employed by Ennahda is making it harder to have confidence in their statements.

Kacem Jlidi
15 October 2012

Theories about the Tunisian Government being a puppet in the hands of Rachid Ghannouchi, head of the ruling Islamist party Ennahda, seem to be justified by a buzzing online video leaked on October 10, 2012. The spiritual leader, supposedly retired from the political scene, is caught on video during a meeting at the Ennahda offices in Tunis.

He appears to be advising Salafi representatives to act wisely in order to solidify their gains over the secularists and consolidate their long-term strategy to reign over Tunisia. Ghannouchi and other members of the Ennhada party state that the video dates back to February or March 2012 and it has been spun and taken out of context.

Throughout the video Ghannouchi seemed to encourage the Salafi groups to do more community outreach through building media institutions and schools to better influence the people with their ideas. ‘Do not rush things’. He said. ‘I tell the Salafi youth that we all went through the same and we suffered. Now you need to have a TV, a radio, schools, and invite the Imams. Why are you rushing things?’ He adds. ‘We should present a reassuring discourse to people, and instruct them to protect our achievements. We should spread our schools and our associations throughout the country,’ the Ennahda leader says.

The pro-Ennahda camp got defensive at the reaction to the video. They tried to justify themselves on the grounds that the meeting took place during the national debate on whether to use Sharia law as the source of legislation in the country’s new constitution. The aim of the meeting was to include the Salafi groups into the democratic process and convince them to drop their use of violence to further their cause.

However, some left-wingers are calling this evidence of Ennahda’s obvious plan to turn Tunisia into an Islamic state similar to Iran. Ghannouchi says on video that Ennahda was now under the control of the Mosques and the Ministry of Religious Affairs. He argues that too radical a change could backfire on them, as it did for the Algerian Islamists in the 1990s.

He further highlights the secularists’ threat to their plans because they control the main sectors of the state: 

‘Now the secular groups, though they did not gain a majority, still control the media, the administration and the economy. The administration is in their hands. Yes, we are heading the administration but all the bases are under their power. Even the governors are under their control … the army is in their hands. We cannot guarantee the police and the army,’ stated the party leader.

The Ministry of National Defence issued a statement on the same day stating that the military will always be Republican and apolitical.

It further explained that the army would remain neutral with regard to conflicts between the political parties and keep the same distance from any political polarization. In the same context, the Ministry called on all soldiers and officers in the army to respect the laws of the country and the hierarchy within the national army and commit themselves to serving the nation.

Hatem Farhat, a lawyer from Mahdia, filed a lawsuit the following day against Rachid Ghannouchi. The lawyer claimed that the statements clearly indicate the party’s intentions to control all aspects of the state and provoke people to fight, thereby threatening the internal security of the State as per Acts 70 and 72 of the Tunisian Criminal Code. The complaint states also that this tape highlights Ghannouchi's real intention to change the state, according to Chapter 72.  The lawyer demanded that the Court of First Instance carry out an audit to verify the authenticity of the video as part of this investigation and to refer any found guilty to the court.

In an interview with AFP last month, Ghannouchi called the Salafi groups a danger ‘to public freedom’ and vowed that the authorities would crack down on them after they caused deadly violence at the US embassy in Tunis.

The double-faced discourse employed by Ennahda is making it harder to have confidence in their statements. On the one hand, they claim to be moderate and are in full support of the country’s democratic transition and preserving people freedoms. And on the other hand, they remain silent at the different attacks made by the Salafi groups and their on-going threat to public freedoms.

They also seem to be focusing on manipulating behind the scenes to keep control by buying more time, thus postponing answering the people’s most urgent demands.   

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