The recent discord between former Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali and his party revealed dissension within Ennahdha, Tunisia’s ruling party that rose to power in part by uniting the moderate and more conservative strains of Islamist politicians.
The divisions between Jebali, Ennahdha’s secretary general, and the party leadership first surfaced in the wake of the assassination of opposition leader Chokri Belaid earlier this month, when Jebali proposed forming a cabinet of nonpartisan ministers despite opposition from within his own party.
Ennahdha’s leadership subsequently announced that they rejected Jebali’s proposal, snubbing its secretary general and effectively eliminating the chances of the plan.
On February 19, Jebali announced his resignation on national television after admitting the failure of his proposal to establish a technocratic government. He said that he preferred to remain true to his earlier promise to quit if the plan was rejected.
Addressing speculation of discord within the party, Ennahdha leader Rached Ghannouchi blamed the media and foreign actors in an interview that was posted on his official Facebook website. But he did not deny the existence of conflict within the party.
Political consultant Ikbel Elloumi said he believed Jebali had drawn up the proposal before Belaid was assassinated, hoping to placate a vocal opposition that was critical of the ruling coalition’s delay in its promise to reshuffle the cabinet.
“Jebali’s decision was independent from Ennahdha. It was clear to everyone,” he said.
Elloumi said that though Jebali’s proposal failed, it forced Ennahdha to accelerate the cabinet reshuffle with neutral politicians in top positions as an alternative to a technocratic government, partially yielding to opposition demands.
According to Elloumi, Ennahdha Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh, the former minister of the interior, was the least contentious replacement for Jebali among candidates that included Justice Minister Noureddine Bhiri and Health Minister Abdellatif Mekki.
“Laarayedh might have to work on gaining people’s trust, but assigning him as the new PM was a smart decision,” he said. Though Ennahdha comprises different political sub-currents, Laarayedh share’s Jebali’s political orientation, which is a “moderate Islamist vision,” Elloumi said.
Radwan Masmoudi, director of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, told Tunisia Live that he does not believe there are permanent divisions within Ennahdha.
“There were different opinions maybe… But after the Shura Council made their final decision, everyone accepted it,” he added.
Ennahdha has managed to remain united despite different opinions, Masmoudi said.
Farida Laabidi, a member of Ennahdha’s governing Shura Council, went further and denied the existence of any differences within the party. According to Laabidi, Ennahdha’s vision has been the same before and after the elections in October 2011.
“We’ve always believed in a government that’s based on a political coalition and we stuck to that… Jebali is still secretary general, and he still reflects Ennahdha’s vision,” she said.
Laabidi presented Jebali’s apologetic speech as an unprecedented lesson in democracy.
“We’re only used to politicians who love staying in power for a long time,” she added.
Masmoudi said Jebali has gained newfound popularity in showing himself capable of putting the national interest over political tensions. When asked whether Jebali could be Ennahdha’s potential presidential candidate in the next elections, despite the recent dissonance between Jebali and his party, Masmoudi said it is too early to tell.
Either way, Jebali, as secretary general of Ennahdha, will continue to represent his party.
But Elloumi, the political consultant, said he does not expect that Jebali’s popularity will to translate into more support for Ennadhdha
“I don’t think that anyone who decided not to vote for Ennahdha would change their mind and vote for Jebali,” he said.