The 41st anniversary of the founding of the Ennahda Movement, one of the most important players on the Tunisian political scene, was celebrated in the southern Tunisian city of Sfax last Sunday.
The shadow of the political stalemate the country has been engulfed in loomed large over the address of Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of Ennahda, who gave a speech at the ceremony. Trying to instill hope in his supporters who were listening attentively, Ghannouchi said: "The end of the coup is imminent," and his strong determination and excitement were palpable in his voice. The air in the hall was also filled with enthusiasm, owing to his infectious determination.
What Rached Ghannouchi called a "coup" is the series of events that transpired last year when President Kais Saied sacked the government and dissolved the parliament at midnight on July 25. The crisis, which directly affected not only the Ennahda Movement as a major government partner, but also the person of Ghannouchi himself as the "head of parliament," has only deepened and morphed since then, becoming ever more strange and ambiguous. The chain of ridiculous events that led even those who had initially and enthusiastically supported Kais Saied to turn on the president in such a short time has gone far beyond the declared goal of "protecting the state from collapse." Finally, a few days ago, by dismissing 57 high-ranking judges across the country and drawing the anger of the secular factions, Saied finally found himself having to answer questions about the nature of his end goal or what exactly those endorsing him really wanted. Finally, the Tunisian General Workers' Union also lifted the lid and withdrew its support for Saied. The president’s efforts to hold "national dialogue" thus remained unanswered and unaddressed.
The fact that the Ennahda Movement had to celebrate its 41st year in such an unpleasant atmosphere may have caused bitterness and disappointment among younger generations, but it was also certain that the older cadres, particularly Ghannouchi, have frequently encountered similar crises during their long political careers. In fact, Ghannouchi himself is the product of deep-rooted experiences gained from all the important centers of the Muslim world:
Born in a makeshift cottage in a village in Tunisia’s southeast in 1941, Rached Ghannouchi started his scientific and intellectual journey atthe famous Ez-Zitouna Madrasa in Tunis, then headed to Azhar University in Cairo, finally ending up at the Faculty of Sharia at Damascus University. After traveling to various countries, Ghannouchi enrolled for a master's degree in philosophy at the Sorbonne University in Paris, aiming to simultaneously familiarize himself with Europe. All these dizzying transitions not only nurtured Ghannouchi, but also offered him the opportunity to make sharp comparisons between different worlds and form his own original opinions. The scene in Damascus mixed with the different notes of the political and scientific atmosphere of Cairo as Ghannouchi grew more experienced, and finally, the picture was completed with what he witnessed in Paris. Algerian philosopher Malik Bin Nabi, Syrian commentator Wahbi Zuhayli, Syrian Circassian scholar Jawdat Saeed, Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna, Iranian Revolution leader Ayatollah Khomeini, Sudanese politician and thinker Hasan Turabi, Pakistan’s Abul A'la Al-Maududi, and many more figures played a significant role in influencing and refining Ghannouchi's ideas.
So when the Islamic Orientation Movement [its name was later changed to "Nahda" (Renaissance)] was founded on June 6, 1981, there were such vast and rich experiences to draw from. When heavy criticism came from the Iranian side toward Ennahda, declaring that it is a peaceful political movement based on a "pluralist democracy," Ghannouchi said: "We were very surprised by the reaction of the Iranians. But Iranians have no right to act as guardians responsible for other Muslims. It is wrong for them to think that the model they apply is the only one on the path to change.”
Rached Ghannouchi, who returned from exile following the overthrow of Tunisian President Zeynel Abidin Bin Ali in 2011, said in 2016: “As Ennahda, we separate religious studies and political activities.” And when he said that “we call ourselves ‘Muslim democrats,’” he was acting with the new experiences of the 2000s. However, since his commitment to democracy has always been a constant from the very beginning, the man cannot be accused of flip-flopping.
These are the first things that spring to mind when looking at Tunisia, the party, and its leader, Rached Ghannouchi, 41 years since the founding of the Ennahda Movement. It seems that it will be left to historians to evaluate the rest of the story from this point forward. They, too, will probably focus on the "fate of the movement beyond its charismatic leader and the growing divisions."