Tunisian democracy ‘demonized’ by Arab media: Parliament speaker

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Rached Ghannouchi says Ennahda party open to criticism and ready to make “sacrifices” to complete Tunisia’s democratic path

TUNIS, Tunisia

The head of Tunisia’s Ennahda party and Speaker of Parliament, Rached Ghannouchi, said his party will courageously engage in “self-criticism”.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, Ghannouchi said his party is open to criticism and ready to make “sacrifices” in order to complete Tunisia’s democratic path.

“Everyone knows that our movement (Ennahda) is one of the main parties that applies self-criticism,” Ghannouchi said, stressing that any politician “who doesn’t listen to his people is arrogant and deaf.”

On July 25, Tunisian President Kais Saied dismissed the government of Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, suspended parliament, and assumed executive authority amid mounting public anger over economic stagnation and political paralysis.

The Tunisian president insists that his “exceptional measures” are meant to “save” the country while his critics accuse him of “orchestrating a coup.”

“There is public anger among many Tunisians, including youths,” said Ghannouchi, whose party is the largest in parliament. “This is understandable due to lack of achievements that meet their ambitions and expectations […] but at the same time there is exaggeration about this issue.”

The parliament speaker, however, expressed confidence that the Tunisian people will not step back from their achievements of freedom and social justice.

 

Tunisia’s democracy

Ghannouchi said there are attempts by Arab media outlets to “demonize” the Tunisian democratic experience but said their attempts are doomed to fail.

“It is enough to look at some Arab channels in their coverage of the Tunisian affairs to notice their persistence to demonize Tunisia’s democracy,” Ghannouchi said.

The parliament speaker said there is a state of ambiguity prevailing in Tunisia in the wake of Saied’s move to oust the government and suspend the assembly.

“Some parliamentarians have been arrested and others slapped with travel bans which infringe on their freedoms,” Ghannouchi said, adding that such acts remind Tunisians of their past era, in reference to Tunisia before the 2011 Revolution that ousted the country’s dictator Zeynel Abidin Bin Ali.

While acknowledging public anger regarding the country’s economic and political conditions, Ghannouchi said the situation doesn’t justify taking a “step back from democracy”, stressing that dictatorship isn’t a solution.

Ghannouchi stressed he is confident the will of the civil society organizations and the political elite will help restore democracy in Tunisia and prevent its return to tyranny.

The Ennahda leader praised the Tunisian military for staying away from political disputes, but reminded the army of its task to protect state institutions.

 

Tunisia’s interests

Commenting on calls for him to resign as Ennahda party leader, Ghannouchi said, “We listen to the critical and protesting voices from inside and outside the party.”

“But the party has its own bodies that take the decisions by where all party members abide, including the head of the party,” he said.

Ghannouchi said the Ennahda Congress will be held later this year which will evaluate the party’s performance and come out with recommendations for the party’s future policies and plans.

Ghannouchi said he will honor the party’s bylaws which limit the chairmanship of the party to only two terms.

“In any case, Tunisia is more precious than anything. I dedicated my life for the interest of my country, and wherever Tunisia’s interest is, it is Ennahda’s interest as well,” he said.

 

Dialogue

Ghannouchi stressed that the Ennahda party doesn’t monopolize democracy and has never sought to prevent anyone from expressing his opinions.

“We are meant for a wider participation to achieve the goals of our people for the return to democracy soon. Everyone has the right to defend his opinion […] democracy is protected by the people, and days will prove these facts,” Ghannouchi said.

He renewed the call for dialogue as the only way-out of Tunisia’s crisis and called on the Tunisian president “to announce a roadmap that outlines his vision of getting out of the current crisis” and supervise the outcomes while urging all parties to show commitment.

“There is no solution for Tunisia except for dialogue and cooperation in order to preserve the flame of freedom and revolution, to build on existing achievements, and to overcome and correct the shortcomings that marred our experience.”

Ghannouchi continued, “We will support him [the president] and work to make him succeed, with the willingness to sacrifice in order to preserve the stability of our country and the continuation of our democracy.”

“We hope that this dialogue will include the features of the next stage at the level of economic and political reforms that the country needs,” he said.

Ghannouchi noted that Tunisia also needs to get out of the state of disruption of institutions, whether legislative or executive.

“We need to put an end to exceptional measures so that we have a legitimate government and a legislative authority that contributes with other authorities to the search for solutions and benefit from the mistakes of the past in cooperation with the rest of state institutions and forces of our society,” he said.

Tunisia has been gripped by a deep crisis since Jan. 16, when Mechichi announced a cabinet reshuffle but Saied refused to hold a ceremony to swear in the new ministers. Tunisia also faces an unprecedented spread of the COVID-19 strains in most states, causing a rapid spread of the virus.

Tunisia is seen as the only Arab country that succeeded in carrying out a democratic transition among other Arab countries that also witnessed popular revolutions that toppled the ruling regimes, including Egypt, Libya, and Yemen.

Ahmed Asmar and Ibrahim Mukhtar contributed to this report from Ankara

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