Muslim Brotherhood in Tunisia

Tunisia

The Muslim Brotherhood’s activity in Tunisia is tied to that of the political party Ennahda. Founded by Islamist cleric Rached Ghannouchi in 1981 as the Islamic Tendency Movement (ITM),Carlotta Gall, “Tunisian Islamic Party Re-elects Moderate Leader,” New York Times, May 23, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/24/world/africa/tunisia-rachid-ghannouchi-ennahda.html. the party drew inspiration from Muslim Brotherhood and its ideology.Carlotta Gall, “Tunisian Islamic Party Re-elects Moderate Leader,” New York Times, May 23, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/24/world/africa/tunisia-rachid-ghannouchi-ennahda.html; Aidan Lewis, “Profile: Tunisia’s Ennahda Party,” BBC News, October 25, 2011, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-15442859. ITM rebranded as Ennahda (meaning, “Awakening” or “Renaissance”) in 1989. The Tunisian government banned the party that year after it won second place in parliamentary election.“Tunisia’s Ennahda distances itself from political Islam,” Al Jazeera, May 27, 2016, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/05/left-tunisia-ennahda-party-160526101937131.html; Aidan Lewis, “Profile: Tunisia's Ennahda Party,” BBC News, October 25, 2011, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-15442859; “Factbox: Who is Tunisia’s Islamist leader Rachid Ghannouchi?” Reuters, January 30, 2011, http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2011/01/30/factbox-who-is-tunisias-islamist-leader-rachid-ghannouchi/. Ennahda formally relaunched during the Tunisian revolution in 2011.“Profile: Tunisia’s Ennahda Party,” BBC News, October 25, 2011, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-15442859.

Ennahda reached the height of its political power in the immediate aftermath of the Tunisian revolution, when the party won a plurality of votes in the October 2011 elections.Ellen McLarney, “Why Arab Spring made life better in Tunisia, failed everywhere else,” Reuters, February 18, 2015, http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2015/02/18/why-arab-spring-made-life-better-in-tunisia-failed-everywhere-else/; Zvi Bar’el, “Tunisia Could Be on Verge of New Revolution: Separating Religion and Politics,” Ha’aretz (Tel Aviv), May 28, 2016, http://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/.premium-1.721863; “Final Tunisian Election results announced,” Al Jazeera, November 14, 2011, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2011/11/20111114171420907168.html. From December 2011 to 2014, Ennahda members Hamadi Jebali and Ali Laarayedh served as successive interim prime ministers of Tunisia,Eileen Byrne, “Tunisia’s Ruling Islamist Party Ennahda Names New Prime Minister,” Guardian (London), February 22, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/feb/22/tunisia-ennahda-prime-minister; “Tunisia PM Resigns as Part of Transition Plan,” Al Jazeera, January 9, 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/01/tunisia-pm-resigns-as-part-transition-plan-201419145034687910.html. during which time the party steadily lost support among the Tunisian public.“Tunisian Confidence in Democracy Wanes,” Pew Research Center, October 15, 2014, http://www.pewglobal.org/2014/10/15/tunisian-confidence-in-democracy-wanes/; Michael Robbins, “Five years after the revolution, more and more Tunisians support democracy,” Washington Post, May 20, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/05/20/are-tunisians-more-optimistic-about-democracy-after-5-years-living-under-it/. The party’s decline in popularity continued into mid-2016 when, in an apparent effort to revitalize the party, leader Rached Ghannouchi publicly sought to rebrand Ennahda’s platform. In May 2016, Ennahda divorced itself from its previously Islamist agenda, pledging to pursue a “Muslim democracy” in place of an Islamic state. Zvi Bar’el, “Tunisia Could Be on Verge of New Revolution: Separating Religion and Politics,” Ha’aretz (Tel Aviv), May 28, 2016, http://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/.premium-1.721863.

Despite this formal platform change, Ghannouchi has also refused to renounce ties with the global Brotherhood movement, casting further skepticism on the sincerity of his new platform.Zvi Bar’el, “Tunisia Could Be on Verge of New Revolution: Separating Religion and Politics,” Ha’aretz (Tel Aviv), May 28, 2016, http://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/.premium-1.721863. In April 2016, a month before Ghannouchi’s announcement, Ghannouchi attended a global Muslim Brotherhood conference in Istanbul.Zvi Bar’el, “Tunisia Could Be on Verge of New Revolution: Separating Religion and Politics,” Ha’aretz (Tel Aviv), May 28, 2016, http://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/.premium-1.721863. Ghannouchi has continued to serve as a high-ranking member of several Islamist and Brotherhood-affiliated organizations in Europe, including the Dublin-based European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR)Jorgen Nielsen, Muslim Political Participation in Europe (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013), 221. and according to Reuters, the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) as recently as 2017.“The Start of the General Assembly of the IUMS… and the Palestine and Gaza Cause Being Is Most Prominent in the Speeches Launched,” International Union of Muslim Scholars, August 21, 2014, http://iumsonline.org/en/iums123/news/h1240/; “Ghannoushi: Fundamentalists are a Danger for Tunisia,” International Union of Muslim Scholars, October 3, 2012, http://iumsonline.org/en/iums123/news/d2133/; “Seminar Discusses Women, Family in Tunisia,” International Union of Muslim Scholars, November 12, 2012, http://iumsonline.org/en/iums123/news/seminar-discusses-women-family-tunisia/; “Arab states blacklist Islamist groups, individuals in Qatar boycott,” Reuters, November 22, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-gulf-qatar-security/arab-states-blacklist-islamist-groups-individuals-in-qatar-boycott-idUSKBN1DM2WQ. In November 2017, multiple Gulf countries designated the IUMS as a terrorist organization.“Arab states blacklist Islamist groups, individuals in Qatar boycott,” Reuters, November 22, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-gulf-qatar-security/arab-states-blacklist-islamist-groups-individuals-in-qatar-boycott-idUSKBN1DM2WQ. Ennahda expressed surprise at the designation, asserting that the group is known for its honesty and tolerance.“Saudi Arabia denies including Tunisia’s Ghannouchi on ‘terrorist list,’” Middle East Monitor, November 25, 2017, https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20171125-saudi-arabia-denies-including-tunisias-ghannouchi-on-terrorist-list/.

Although Ghannouchi claims to have pivoted away from Islamism toward a more pluralistic vision for his party, Ghannouchi has previously had ties to Islamist and violent extremist groups, both in Tunisia and around the world. For example, according to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, leaders of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansar al-Sharia group in Tunisia (AST) attended meetings at Ghannouchi’s home in 2011 at which he allegedly advised them to encourage AST youth to infiltrate Tunisia’s national army and National Guard.Aaron Y. Zelin, “Tunisia: Uncovering Ansar al-Sharia,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, October 25, 2013, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/tunisia-uncovering-ansar-al-sharia.

In 2012, Ghannouchi was caught on tape strategizing with AST leaders and advocating for control over the media.Bill Roggio, “‘Moderate’ Islamist Leader in Tunisia Strategizes with Al Qaeda-linked Salafists,” Long War Journal, October 16, 2012, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2012/10/moderate_islamist_le.php; Aaron Y. Zelin, “Tunisia: Uncovering Ansar al-Sharia,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, October 25, 2013, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/tunisia-uncovering-ansar-al-sharia. In the leaked video, Ghannouchi could be seen advising AST leaders on how to gain influence in Tunisia by “establish[ing] Qur’anic schools everywhere, and invit[ing] religious preachers” into the country as well as “creat[ing] television channels, radio stations, schools and universities.”Bill Roggio, “‘Moderate’ Islamist Leader in Tunisia Strategizes with Al Qaeda-linked Salafists,” Long War Journal, October 16, 2012, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2012/10/moderate_islamist_le.php. Ghannouchi was also caught on camera bemoaning the fact that “the secularists are still controlling the media, economy and administration” and that “controlling them [will] require more time.”Bill Roggio, “‘Moderate’ Islamist Leader in Tunisia Strategizes with Al Qaeda-linked Salafists,” Long War Journal, October 16, 2012, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2012/10/moderate_islamist_le.php. In the video, Ghannouchi also claimed that his Ennahda party had previously met with AST leader Seifallah Ben Hassine.Bill Roggio, “‘Moderate’ Islamist Leader in Tunisia Strategizes with Al Qaeda-linked Salafists,” Long War Journal, October 16, 2012, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2012/10/moderate_islamist_le.php. In 2014, Ben Hassine was sanction-designated by the United States and United Nations for his links to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and his implication in various terror attacks, including the assassination of Tunisian security forces and political figures, as well as the September 2012 AST attack on the U.S. Embassy in Tunis. “Narrative Summaries of Reasons for Listing: QDi.333: Seifallah ben Hassine,” U.N. Security Council, September 23, 2014, https://www.un.org/sc/suborg/en/sanctions/1267/aq_sanctions_list/summaries/individual/seifallah-ben-hassine; “Terrorist Designations of Three Ansar al-Shari’a Organizations and Leaders,” U.S. Department of State, January 10, 2014, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2014/01/219519.htm. Ben Hassine died in a U.S. airstrike in Libya in mid-June 2015.Carlotta Gall and Eric Schmitt, “Jihadist From Tunisia Died in Strike in Libya, U.S. Official Says,” New York Times, July 2, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/03/world/africa/jihadist-from-tunisia-died-in-strike-in-libya-us-official-says.html.

Also in the leaked video, Ghannouchi claims to have met with representatives of global Islamist movement Hizb ut-Tahrir.Bill Roggio, “‘Moderate’ Islamist Leader in Tunisia Strategizes with Al Qaeda-linked Salafists,” Long War Journal, October 16, 2012, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2012/10/moderate_islamist_le.php. Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned from operating in at least 13 countries worldwide.“Hizb ut-Tahrir,” Counter Extremism Project, accessed May 31, 2016, https://www.counterextremism.com/threat/hizb-ut-tahrir.

Although Ennahda ultimately conceded to the Tunisian government’s decision to designate AST as a terrorist organization in August 2013, Ennahda reportedly continued to excuse AST’s violent activities for months beforehand until popular discontent and the growing threat of a political crisis motivated the party to change its stance.Aaron Y. Zelin and Vish Sakthivel, “Tunisia Designates Ansar al-Sharia,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, August 28, 2013, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/tunisia-designates-ansar-al-sharia. In a January 2019 Al-Monitor interview, Ghannouchi pointed to Ennahda’s role in legally banning AST in August 2013 under the Ennahda-led government. He declared: “There is only one Islam, but we believe it is a flexible religion that interacts with each environment with each age.”Amberin Zaman, “Democrat or Islamist firebrand — who is Tunisia's Rachid Ghannouchi?” Al-Monitor, January 28, 2019, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/01/tunisia-ennahda-rached-ghannouchi-islamists-arab-spring.html#ixzz5glwJpydy; “Tunisia declares Ansar al-Sharia a terrorist group,” BBC News, August 27, 2013, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-23853241.

Despite pledging to pivot away from Islamism, Ennahda has struggled to rid itself of its Islamist agenda and has received criticism for not complying with its promise.Amel al-Hilali, “Tunisia’s Ennahda struggles to shake political Islam identity,” Al Monitor, December 13, 2017, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/12/tunisia-ennahda-muslim-brotherhood-terrorist-political-islam.html. For example, in September 2017, both Tunisia’s secretary-general, Mohsen Marzouk, and Tunisian president Beji Caid Essebsi criticized Ennahda for failing to reject its traditional Islamist vision and become more of a civic party.Amel al-Hilali, “Tunisia’s Ennahda struggles to shake political Islam identity,” Al Monitor, December 13, 2017, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/12/tunisia-ennahda-muslim-brotherhood-terrorist-political-islam.html; “Mohsen Marzouq: Ennahda has not been able to turn into a civil movement,” Kapitalis, September 23, 2017, http://www.kapitalis.com/anbaa-tounes/2017/09/23/%D9%85%D8%AD%D8%B3%D9%86-%D9%85%D8%B1%D8%B2%D9%88%D9%82-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%86%D9%87%D8%B6%D8%A9-%D9%84%D9%85-%D8%AA%D8%AA%D9%85%D9%83%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AA%D8%AD%D9%88%D9%84-%D8%A5%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%AD/; Ahmed Nahdif, “Tunisia’s next elections will put governing alliance to test,” Al Monitor, September 19, 2017, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/09/tunisia-alliance-nidaa-tunis-islamist-ennahda.html. Although Essebsi’s Nidaa Tunis party had been allied with Ennahda for over three years, in January 2018, the two parties announced their split and intention to compete against one another in municipal elections later that year.Ahmed Nahdif, “Tunisia’s next elections will put governing alliance to test,” Al Monitor, September 19, 2017, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/09/tunisia-alliance-nidaa-tunis-islamist-ennahda.html; “Ghannouchi: Ennahda is not at war with Nidaa Tounes,” Middle East Monitor, January 9, 2018, Ahmed Nahdif, “Tunisia’s next elections will put governing alliance to test,” Al Monitor, September 19, 2017, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/09/tunisia-alliance-nidaa-tunis-islamist-ennahda.html. That May, Ennahda received 28.6 percent of the vote in Tunisian municipal elections. Independent candidates received 32.2 percent while the Nidaa Tounes party received 20.8 percent. Ennahda called the result “a reward for the new tolerant and democratic Ennahda.”Tarek Amara, “Independent candidates get most votes in Tunisia's municipal election,” Reuters, May 8, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tunisia-election/independent-candidates-get-most-votes-in-tunisias-municipal-election-idUSKBN1I92DW.

Ennahda still supports what could be considered traditional Islamist values. For example, Ennahda agreed to guarantee gender equality while helping draft Tunisia’s constitution in 2014. But in August 2018, Ennahda rejected a presidential initiative to grant gender equality in Tunisia’s inheritance law, which allows for a man to receive twice as much of an inheritance as a woman in accordance with sharia.“Tunisia: Ennahda Rejects Inheritance Equality,” Human Rights Watch, September 6, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/09/06/tunisia-ennahda-rejects-inheritance-equality. Ennahda’s Shura Council—the party’s main governing body—declared that it supports efforts to guarantee women’s rights “in a way that does not contradict the peremptory texts of religion and the provisions of the Constitution.”“Final statement of the 21st session of the Shura Council of the Renaissance Movement,” Ennahda, August 26, 2018, http://www.ennahdha.tn/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A8%D9%8A%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AE%D8%AA%D8%A7%D9%85%D9%8A-%D9%84%D9%84%D8%AF%D9%88%D8%B1%D8%A9-21-%D9%84%D9%85%D8%AC%D9%84%D8%B3-%D8%B4%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%89-%D8%AD%D8%B1%D9%83%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%86%D9%87%D8%B6%D8%A9.

Ennahda has also faced allegations that it has maintained a secret security service, which is accused of orchestrating political assassinations. In October 2018, the Committee for the Defense of Martyrs Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi accused Ennahda of orchestrating the 2013 murder of Tunisian politicians Belaid and Brahmi. The committee, comprised of a group of lawyers, claims to have documents linking Ennahda to a secret security group within the government and the assassinations.Mohamed Ali Ltifi, “Ennahda faces new allegations in Tunisian political murders,” Al-Monitor, October 12, 2018, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2018/10/ennahda-faces-serious-accusations-political-assassinations.html#ixzz5mgjdNxfC. In November 2018, Essebsi accused Ennahda of issuing personal threats against him. Ennahda has denied any involvement in violence.Mohamed Ali Ltifi, “Tunisia's Ennahda party faces more assassination allegations,” Al-Monitor, December 12, 2018, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2018/12/tunisia-ennahda-political-assassinations-french-president.html; “Tunisia: Ennahda Rejects Accusations on Planning to Assassinate Essebsi,” Asharq al-Awsat (London), December 3, 2018, https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/1489256/tunisia-ennahda-rejects-accusations-planning-assassinate-essebsi.

Tunisia was scheduled to hold presidential and parliamentary elections before the end of 2019. In January 2019, Ghannouchi announced that Ennahda would participate in the presidential elections, but he did not declare his own candidacy for the position.“‘Ennahda will contest this year’s presidential elections,’ says Ghannouchi,” Middle East Monitor, January 14, 2019, https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20190114-ennahda-will-contest-this-years-presidential-elections-says-ghannouchi/.

With presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled in September and October of 2019, Ennahda continued to declare candidates. In July 2019, Ghannouchi announced he would run in Tunisia’s upcoming parliamentary elections.“Tunisia: Ennahda party leader to stand in parliamentary polls,” Africa News, July 21, 2019, https://www.africanews.com/2019/07/21/tunisia-ennahda-party-leader-to-stand-in-parliamentary-polls/. The following month, Ennahda announced it would field its deputy leader, Abdelfattah Mourou, in Tunisia’s presidential elections.“Tunisia's Ennahda names its first-ever candidate for presidential elections,” France 24, August 7, 2019, https://www.france24.com/en/20190807-tunisia-ennahda-presidential-elections-Abdel-Fattah-Mourou. Mourou came in third place in a presidential run-off election on September 15, 2019, with 12.9 percent of the vote. With their candidate lacking a clear path to the presidency, Ennahda announced its support for Kais Saied, who won 18.4 percent of the vote.“Moderate Islamist Ennahda backs Saied in Tunisia’s presidential run-off,” Reuters, September 19, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-tunisia-election-islamists-idUKKBN1W42VA. Ennahda fared better in Tunisia’s parliamentary elections on October 6, 2019, winning 52 seats. Though it lost 17 seats from the 2014 election, Ennahda still won the most seats in the country’s 217-seat parliament.“Tunisia's moderate Islamist party Ennahda to lead fractured new parliament,” Reuters, October 9, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tunisia-election-results-idUSKBN1WO2PD. Ghannouchi was elected speaker of parliament on November 13.“Tunisia parliament elects Ennahdha’s Rachid Ghannouchi as speaker,” Al Jazeera, November 13, 2019, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/11/13/tunisia-parliament-elects-ennahdhas-rachid-ghannouchi-as-speaker.

As the largest party in parliament, Ennahda nominated a candidate for prime minister. As Ennahda did not secure a majority in parliament, it nominated independent Habib Jemli in an effort to build a broad coalition. Saied tasked Jemli with forming a government on November 15, 2019.Faisal Edroos, “Tunisia’s president tasks Habib Jemli with forming new government,” Middle East Eye, November 15, 2019, https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/tunisia-ennahda-nominates-independent-habib-jemli-prime-minister. Tunisia’s parliament rejected Jemli’s proposed government on January 10, 2020, and Saied later nominated Elyes Fakhfakh as prime minister. Fakhfakh signaled he would include only allies of Saied in his proposed government, putting him at odds with Ennahda.Agence France-Presse, “Tunisian parliament rejects government of Habib Jemli,” January 11, 2020, https://www.france24.com/en/20200111-tunisian-parliament-rejects-government-of-habib-jemli; Lamine Ghanmi, “Tunisia’s prime minister-designate to form coalition based on parties’ support to president,” Arab Weekly, January 26, 2020, https://thearabweekly.com/tunisias-prime-minister-designate-form-coalition-based-parties-support-president.

Fakhfakh resigned on July 15, 2020, after growing disagreements with Ennahda, which accused him of conflicts of interest for maintaining financial interests in companies that had been awarded state contracts.“Tunisia’s prime minister resigns after political row,” Deutsche Welle, July 15, 2020, https://www.dw.com/en/tunisias-prime-minister-resigns-after-political-row/a-54191961. At the same time, Free Constitutional party leader Abir Moussi accused Ghannouchi of serving the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as foreign powers such as Turkey and Qatar. In mid-July 2020, Tunisian political parties opposed to Ennahda sought to launch a no-confidence vote against Ghannouchi.Tarek Amara, “Tunisian parties seek to oust parliament speaker, Islamists want new government,” Reuters, July 12, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tunisia-politics/tunisian-parties-seek-to-oust-parliament-speaker-islamists-want-new-government-idUSKCN24D0NL. A no-confidence vote on Ghannouchi failed on July 30.Ali Abo Rezeg, “Tunisia: No-confidence vote fails to remove Ghannouchi,” Anadolu Agency, July 30, 2020, https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/tunisia-no-confidence-vote-fails-to-remove-ghannouchi/1927351. On July 25, 2020, Tunisian President Kais Saied appointed Hichem Mechichi as prime minister.Tarek Amara, “Tunisia president designates new PM amid hopes of ending political crisis,” Reuters, July 25, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-tunisia-politics-pm-idUKKCN24Q0SI?edition-redirect=uk. Tunisia’s parliament approved him that September.Bouazza Ben Bouazza, “Tunisian prime minister wins confidence vote amid crisis,” Associated Press, September 2, 2020, https://apnews.com/article/786f9ba8aee115e0a4759079a15cdb87.

On July 25, 2021, Saied dismissed Mechichi and suspended the country’s parliament. Saied announced he would assume executive authority with the assistance of a newly appointed prime minister.“Tunisia’s president accused of ‘coup’ after dismissing PM,” Al Jazeera, July 25, 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/7/25/tunisias-president-dismisses-prime-minister-after-protests. Saied invoked Article 80 of Tunisia’s constitution to remove Mechichi as well as freeze parliament in an effort to “save the state.”Claire Parker, “Tunisia’s president fires prime minister, dismisses government, freezes parliament,” Washington Post, July 26, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/07/25/tunisia-saied-mechichi-parliament/; Tarek Amara and Angus Mcdowall, “Tunisian democracy in turmoil after president sacks government,” Reuters, July 26, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/tunisian-democracy-crisis-after-president-ousts-government-2021-07-26/. Article 80 allows the president to take any measures to halt any “danger threatening the integrity of the country and the country’s security and independence,” which Saied claimed is a corrupt political system unable to handle the economic and health challenges plaguing the country. Saied now retains full powers under the executive branch but under the Tunisian Constitution, Saied must respect a one-month deadline to restore state institutions.“Experts react: What’s next after Tunisian president’s parliamentary freeze?,” Atlantic Council, July 27, 2021, https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/menasource/experts-react-whats-next-after-tunisian-presidents-parliamentary-freeze/. Ghannouchi condemned the move as a “a coup against the revolution and constitution,” while Tunisians took to the streets in protest.“Tunisia’s president accused of ‘coup’ after dismissing PM,” Al Jazeera, July 25, 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/7/25/tunisias-president-dismisses-prime-minister-after-protests. Ghannouchi initially led a sit-in outside of parliament and called for protests similar to the Arab Spring protests of 2011. He soon after called for calm and dialogue, while an Ennahda spokesman said there was an “awareness within Ennahda that we need to avoid escalation and must keep calm in our democracy.”“Tunisia’s president accused of ‘coup’ after dismissing PM,” Al Jazeera, July 25, 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/7/25/tunisias-president-dismisses-prime-minister-after-protests; Tarek Amara and Angus Mcdowall, “Analysis: Tunisia’s political crisis poses existential test for Islamist party,” Reuters, July 29, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/tunisias-political-crisis-poses-existential-test-islamist-party-2021-07-29/. On July 29, Tunisia’s judiciary opened a probe into Ennahda, the Heart of Tunisia party, and the “Aish Tounsi” association on suspicion of receiving foreign funds during the 2019 election campaign.Khaled Hedoui, “Tunisian judiciary opens probe into election finances of Ennahda, Qalb Tounes,” Arab Weekly, July 29, 2021, https://thearabweekly.com/tunisian-judiciary-opens-probe-election-finances-ennahda-qalb-tounes.

Ghannouchi has publicly defended Ennahda’s commitment to religious freedoms and blamed criticism on a “media war” trying to influence public opinion ahead of Tunisian elections.Amberin Zaman, “Democrat or Islamist firebrand — who is Tunisia's Rachid Ghannouchi?” Al-Monitor, January 28, 2019, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/01/tunisia-ennahda-rached-ghannouchi-islamists-arab-spring.html#ixzz5glwJpydy; “Tunisia declares Ansar al-Sharia a terrorist group,” BBC News, August 27, 2013, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-23853241. Several Tunisia analysts have questioned whether Ghannouchi and Ennahda are sincere in their praise of political and religious freedom or if they are paying lip service to these values in order to avoid a second revolution that would remove them from power.Amberin Zaman, “Democrat or Islamist firebrand — who is Tunisia's Rachid Ghannouchi?” Al-Monitor, January 28, 2019, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/01/tunisia-ennahda-rached-ghannouchi-islamists-arab-spring.html#ixzz5glwJpydy. As Tunisia struggles with what Ennahda has called a coup, Ghannouchi has declared Ennahda is “ready to make all concessions” so Tunisia can quickly return to democracy.“Tunisia’s president accused of ‘coup’ after dismissing PM,” Al Jazeera, July 25, 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/7/25/tunisias-president-dismisses-prime-minister-after-protests; Bouazza Ben Bouazza and Elaine Ganley, “AP Interview: Tunisia Islamist party counters president,” Associated Press, July 27, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/government-and-politics-health-religion-africa-tunisia-f6446d7c7e6d5a78f148d5da7f708b89; “Tunisia coup: Ghannouchi urges return to democracy,” Middle East Eye, July 30, 2021, https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/tunisia-coup-ghannouchi-calls-return-democracy.

Ennahda denounces the use of violence in pursuit of the party’s political aims. Nonetheless, Ennahda has been accused of complicity with violent jihadist groups like Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST), which has carried out a series of violent terror attacks and political assassinations in the country.“Violence in Tunisia Increases as Ennahda Stands By,” Kaci Racelma, January 31, 2013, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/ar/originals/2013/01/tunisia-islamist-extremists-violence.html#. Following the February 2013 murder of popular opposition leader and Ennahda critic Chokri Belaid, the left accused Ennahda of complicity in the assassination.“Tunisia Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali resigns,” BBC News, February 19, 2013, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-21508498. Ennahda denied responsibility for the assassination, and later blamed the attack exclusively on AST.“Tunisia Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali resigns,” BBC News, February 19, 2013, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-21508498.

Ennahda has nonetheless been tied to the AST through the actions of its party leader, Rached Ghannouchi. In January 2012, Ghannouchi met privately with AST leader Seifallah Ben Hassine to discuss strategies for establishing Islamist governance in Tunisia. A video of the meeting surfaced online in October 2012, a month after AST’s September 2012 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Tunis.“Narrative Summaries of Reasons for Listing: QDi.333: Seifallah ben Hassine,” U.N. Security Council, September 23, 2014, https://www.un.org/sc/suborg/en/sanctions/1267/aq_sanctions_list/summaries/individual/seifallah-ben-hassine; “Terrorist Designations of Three Ansar al-Shari’a Organizations and Leaders,” U.S. Department of State, January 10, 2014, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2014/01/219519.htm.

  • hamasHamas

    In February 2009, Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi signed the so-called Istanbul declaration by 90 Muslim scholars from around the world calling for “jihad and resistance against the occupier until the liberation of all Palestine.” The document supported Hamas and its right to violently attack foreign navies attempting to stop the smuggling of arms into the Gaza Strip.Jamie Doward, “British Muslim leader urged to quit over Gaza,” Guardian (London), March 7, 2009, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/mar/08/daud-abdullah-gaza-middle-east. In November 2012, Ghannouchi attended an Islamist conference in Khartoum, Sudan, alongside Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie. Ghannouchi declared “the mother of the revolutions was the blessed Palestinian revolution.”Alexander Dziadosz, “Islamist leaders vow unity against Israel,” Reuters, November 15, 2012, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-palestinians-israel-islamists/islamist-leaders-vow-unity-against-israel-idUSBRE8AE1HC20121115.

Ties to Other Groups

  • European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR)

    Rached Ghannouchi has served as a member of the Dublin-based ECFR.Jorgen Nielsen, Muslim Political Participation in Europe (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013), 221.

Tunisia has not designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.

For a complete list of countries and organizations that have designated the Muslim Brotherhood, please see the Muslim Brotherhood's full report

  • Rached Ghannouchi

    Nov. 2017

    After multiple Gulf countries designate the IUMS as a terrorist organization in November 2017:

    “We consider that politically classifying organizations as terrorist and adding moderate figures and unions of scholars to terrorists list is a strategy to weaken the war on terrorism.”Amel al-Hilali, “Tunisia’s Ennahda struggles to shake political Islam identity,” Al Monitor, December 13, 2017, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/12/tunisia-ennahda-muslim-brotherhood-terrorist-political-islam.html.

  • Rached Ghannouchi

    May 2016

    Refusing to formally distance himself from the Muslim Brotherhood:
    “[W]e are astounded by those who want to distance religion from national life.”Zvi Bar’el, “Tunisia Could Be on Verge of New Revolution: Separating Religion and Politics,” Ha’aretz (Tel Aviv), May 28, 2016, http://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/.premium-1.721863.

  • Rached Ghannouchi

    January 2012

    Caught on video strategizing with leaders of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansar al-Sharia (AST):
    “I tell our young Salafists to be patient… Why hurry? Take your time to consolidate what you have gained.”Bill Roggio, “‘Moderate’ Islamist Leader in Tunisia Strategizes with Al Qaeda-linked Salafists,” Long War Journal, October 16, 2012, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2012/10/moderate_islamist_le.php.

  • Rached Ghannouchi

    January 2012

    Caught on video strategizing with leaders of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansar al-Sharia (AST):
    “The secularists are still controlling the media, economy and administration… Therefore, controlling them [will] require more time.”Bill Roggio, “‘Moderate’ Islamist Leader in Tunisia Strategizes with Al Qaeda-linked Salafists,” Long War Journal, October 16, 2012, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2012/10/moderate_islamist_le.php.

  • Rached Ghannouchi

    January 2012

    “[T]he police and army’s support for Islamists is not guaranteed, and controlling them [will] also require more time.”Bill Roggio, “‘Moderate’ Islamist Leader in Tunisia Strategizes with Al Qaeda-linked Salafists,” Long War Journal, October 16, 2012, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2012/10/moderate_islamist_le.php.

  • Rached Ghannouchi

    January 2012

    Advising leaders of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansar al-Sharia (AST):
    “The Islamists must fill the country with associations, establish Qur’anic schools everywhere, and invite religious preachers because people are still ignorant of Islam.”Bill Roggio, “‘Moderate’ Islamist Leader in Tunisia Strategizes with Al Qaeda-linked Salafists,” Long War Journal, October 16, 2012, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2012/10/moderate_islamist_le.php.

  • Rached Ghannouchi

    January 2012

    Advising leaders of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansar al-Sharia (AST):
    “To [gain influence], create television channels, radio stations, schools and universities.”Bill Roggio, “‘Moderate’ Islamist Leader in Tunisia Strategizes with Al Qaeda-linked Salafists,” Long War Journal, October 16, 2012, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2012/10/moderate_islamist_le.php.

  • Rached Ghannouchi

    January 2012

    Caught on video strategizing with leaders of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansar al-Sharia (AST):
    “We’ve [Ennahda] met with Hizb ut-Tahrir, and the Salafists, including Sheikh Abu Iyad [al Tunisi] and Sheikh al-Idrissi.”Bill Roggio, “‘Moderate’ Islamist Leader in Tunisia Strategizes with Al Qaeda-linked Salafists,” Long War Journal, October 16, 2012, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2012/10/moderate_islamist_le.php.

View All Branches

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.

Fact:

On September 20, 2020, Taliban militants ambushed a security checkpoint in Uruzgan, Afghanistan. The attack killed at least 24 members of the Afghan security forces.  

View Archive

CEP on Twitter