Tunisia coup: Ennahda leader blames UAE for power grab

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A member of Tunisia’s security forces stands guard outside parliament headquarters in Bardo in Tunis on 31 July 2021 (AFP)
The Gulf country has a ‘great fear’ that democracy could spread to the rest of the Arab world says Rached Ghannouchi

Tunisia‘s parliament speaker and leader of the Ennahda party, Rached Ghannouchi, has blamed the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for the coup in his country, which has seen President Kais Saied suspending parliament and seizing executive power.

‘[The UAE] has taken upon itself the idea that the Arab Spring was born in Tunisia and must die in Tunisia’

– Rached Ghannouchi, Tunisia’s  parliament speaker

Speaking to the Times newspaper, Ghannouchi said the Gulf country was determined to “finish off” the Arab Spring, the 2011 uprisings that saw long-term rulers overthrown across the Middle East and North Africa.

“It has taken upon itself the idea that the Arab Spring was born in Tunisia and must die in Tunisia,” he said, adding that the UAE saw the brand of conservative Islamic democracy propounded by Ennahda as a threat.

However, he said that he thought it was unlikely Tunisia would see something happen akin to the military takeover that happened in Egypt in 2013, a move that was backed by the UAE.

“Tunisia is not Egypt. There is a different relationship between the army and the government,” Ghannouchi said.

“Here, since the revolution, the army has protected freedom and the ballot box.”

Saied’s dramatic decision on Sunday to sack the prime minister and freeze parliament was a move that observers say fundamentally contradicts Tunisia’s constitution and could harm the country’s democracy.

But the mood on the capital’s streets has been relatively calm – barring an initial clash between the president’s supporters and opponents earlier in the week.

Al Jazeera’s Tunis offices were stormed by police on Monday, while on Friday an independent MP was arrested and sentenced to two months in prison for “participating in an act aimed at destroying the morale of the army”.

The arrest was based on a 2018 ruling and follows Saied’s decision to remove parliamentarians’ immunity.

Tunisia has been governed by successive technocratic governments since early 2020, while Ennahda has held the majority of seats in parliament since the 2019 elections. The last time Ennahda led the government was in 2013.

Ghannouchi said that the UAE was already worried about the possibility of a peace deal in neighbouring Libya, which could also potentially lead to democratic elections.

“They have a great fear that democratic transitions might spread to the rest of the Arab region,” he said.

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