Ennahda began its 10th Congress on Friday, May 20, in Rades where Ennahda President Rached Ghannouchi told attendees “This Conference is taking place in an important context for our country and our party, five years after the revolution which toppled a dictatorial regime but preserved the state and society’s unity.”
Ghannouchi, in the build up to the Congress had indicated in numerous statements, including most notably in an interview earlier this week with French newspaper Le Monde, that the Congress would represent a historic turning point in the, soon to be formerly known as Islamist, party’s history.
According to Ghannouchi, in his interview with Le Monde Ennahda is “leaving political Islam and entering democratic Islam. We are Muslim democrats who no longer claim to represent political Islam”
Asked how Ennahda would pursue its catharsis, Ghannouchi told Le Monde, referring to Ennahda’s 10th Congress “One of the items of order of the Congress will discuss the relationship between the political dimension and the religious dimension of the party. We affirm that Ennahda is a political, democratic and civil party, with points of references in modern Islamic and civilizational values. These references are the one found in the 2014 Constitution that reflects this understanding mixed, dual, modernity and identity. We are going in the direction of a party that specializes solely on political activities.”
Furthermore Ghannouchi explained to Le Monde that he reasons for the shift in orientation are twofold:
“There was no room left in post-Revolution Tunisia for “political Islam”.” Ghannouchi said, adding “Tunisia is now a democracy. The 2014 constitution has imposed limits on extreme secularism and extreme religion,”
“The concept of political Islam was disfigured by extremism of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. And we insist therefore on the need to show the difference between the ‘Muslim democracy’ which Ennahda seeks and “extremist jihadist Islam.”
Ghannouchi has also announced in numerous other interviews and statements in recent weeks that Ennahda would cease its proselytizing activities, ban its members from engaging in political activity in mosques and would bar imams from becoming party members.
The President of the Republic, Beji Caid Essebsi, invited to speak at the opening ceremony told attendees “We celebrate Ennahdha’s evolution into a Tunisian civil democratic party that demonstrates the compatibility between Islam and democracy.”
The opening ceremony in Rades takes place ahead of conferences in Hammamet on Saturday and Sunday where 1200 delegates will through electronic voting elect the party’s president (Rached Ghannouchi is all but certain to be relected), positions within the party and vote on party rules as well as official declarations.
“The presence of women, young people and Tunisian expatriates in Ennahda and participation in its next congress is a clear choice, not a simple slogan,” ARP deputy and party spokesman Osama Sghaier said in a statement to Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP) earlier this week, adding that Ennahda would seek to consolidate the presence of women and youth in the party by assuring that candidate lists for internal party posts would comprise at least 20 percent of each.
Ridha Driss, a member of the organizing committee of the Ennahda’s Congress, earlier this week outlined seven points of focus or themes to be discussed throughout the Congress:
The evaluation of the course of the movement since the 1970s
The nature of the party
The ideological vision of the party
The future political strategy of the party
The economic situation of Tunisia
The security situation of Tunisia
Reforms within the party structures
Also in attendance beyond Ennahda members, supporters and figures such as the Vice President of the Assembly of the Representatives of the People (ARP) Abedlfattah Mourou (pictured above with Ghannouchi) were ARP President Mohamed Ennaceur, former interim Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa; members from the Afek Tounes, Nidaa Tounes and the UPL who form the coalition government with Ennahda as well as numerous international observers, guests and journalists from over a dozen countries ranging from the U.S. to China
The Popular Front was entirely absent from the ceremony. Despite their parties having a presence UPL President Slim Riahi who’s party is in disarray and has suspended its activities in the coalition government’s committees, Former President Moncef Marzouki and Machrou Tounes President Mohsen Marzouk were also absent.
Marzouk formed the Machrou Tounes and its Al-Horra bloc within the ARP during a schism in Nidaa Tounes during its disastrous party congress in Sousse in January, which saw Nidaa Tounes lose its parliamentary plurality to Ennahda, and during which over two dozen of its deputies joined Marzouk’s bloc, Al-Horra with its twenty seven seats has not joined the coalition government, there have been a series of squabbles between and within Tunisia’s secular parties.
The coalition government, in addition to Ennahda currently includes Nidaa Tounes, the UPLand Afek Tounes. Earlier this month the ARP formalized the adhesion of three former UPL deputies to Nidaa Tounes. With the three former UPL members included Nidaa Tounes now holds 59 seats in the ARP behind Ennahda’s 69 seats, the UPL which now holds twelve seats remains ahead of Afek Tounes and its ten seats. Members of the coalition government agreed not to accept each others’ migratory ARP deputies, the UPL in protest of Nidaa Tounes reneging on the agreement announced it would suspend it activities within but not withdraw from, the coalition government.
The UPL also saw its former secretary general, and current Minister of Youth and Sport Mehdi Ben Dhia resign from the party in April, after Riahi, who is also the president of the Club Africain football club in Tunis, publicly accused Ben Dhia of laxism towards the Tunisian Football Federation whom Riahi accused of corruption after the Club Africain lost to Etoile Sportive du Sahel in April. Riahi then unsuccesfully called on Prime Minister Essid to replace Ben Dhia as minister.
President Beji Caid Essebsi’s Nidaa Tounes party, does not seem to have recovered a sense of unity within in ranks since the January split. Within a week of eachother earlier in May, the director its political committee of Ridha Belhaj resigned, having only occupied the post for only three months. Belhaj’s resignation came on the heels of the resignation, less than a week earlier of the Nidaa Tounes parliamentary bloc’s chairman (whip), Fadhel Ben Omrane, who cited health reasons and stated he “had no control over the deputies.” Ben Omrane also mentioned his inability to reign in absentee deputies and the deputies inability to fulfill their election promises.