Contention between two competing factions of Tunisia’s ruling party is threatening to spiral into an all-out civil war, as rival leaders convened separate meetings to discuss the party’s future over the weekend.
The “Reform and Rescue Group,” a faction of Nidaa Tounes that includes prominent members Ridha Belhaj, Faouzi Elloumi, and Moncef Sallami, gathered in Sousse on Saturday to propose urgent measures they claimed are needed to rescue the party.
In an official statement, the group called for the eradication of the party’s Executive Director position–currently held by Hafedh Caid Essebsi, son of President Essebsi–and stressed the need to hold fresh elections in March to resolve the party’s continued internal leadership problems.
Hafedh Caid Essebsi, who was appointed to the powerful leadership post in parliament two years ago, has been the center of discontent within his party ever since, with many criticizing him for his relative lack of experience and exclusionary tactics.
“The country no longer has vision,” former director of the presidential cabinet Ridha Belaj said to Shems FM, “…and (this is) precisely because of Hafedh Caid Essebsi, who is the principal cause of the current crisis.
A member of Nidaa Tounes’ executive bureau in Bizerte, however, offered a modest defense of Caid Essebsi.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the member said that while Hafedh Caid Essebsi has at times negatively consolidated authority, he has also been a loyal and dedicated asset to his father’s party.
“(Hafedh Caid Essebsi) was there for the party when others stayed at home,” the representative said to Tunisia Live over the phone, “He was in the front lines in 2012 when others were criticizing and attacking us.”
According to former director of the presidential cabinet Ridha Belhaj, however, Essebsi’s power needs to be curtailed, although he said it is not his objective to permanently remove him from the party altogether.
Responding to Belhadj’s comments, Hafedh Caid Essebsi claimed that internal disputes should be settled within the party, not aired in public. He also welcomed input from fellow party members going forward.
Nidaa Tounes emerged in 2012 as Tunisia’s principal alternative to the Islamist Ennahdha party, but has been embroiled in conflict involving competing interpretations of the party’s secular identity, and a series of leadership feuds that have caused the departure of many prominent members.
In 2013, Mohsen Marzouk, formerly a key adviser to President Essebsi and leader in Nidaa Tounes, left the party following a similar dispute with Hafedh Essebsi, going on to found the Mashrou’ Tounes movement, with the described aim of promoting a national modernist project.
Rahma is preparing a master thesis in Anglo-American studies. She is interested in politics and foreign affairs. Since the outbreak of the Tunisian revolution, she volunteered for several Tunisian associations such as ATIDE, Sawty and others. She writes articles about post-revolution Tunisia.