In a surprise move, the Tunisian Ennahda Movement announced the nomination of its founders, its Vice President, and the First Vice President of the Tunisian Assembly of the Representatives of the People, 71-year-old Abdel Fattah Morou for the early presidential elections scheduled for mid-September, to be the first presidential candidate of the party since its founding in 1981. But this step also revealed further division within the Islamic Brotherhood party, and internal breakdown of the authority of its President Rached Ghannouchi.
There has been rivalry within the Ennahda movement for more than a month as they called for time for reflection. Rumours about Ghannouchi's domination of decision-making and his neglect of the executive offices (EO) at the party's grass-roots level as to who will represent the party in parliament, have become more substantial, some of these have reached the media and social media platforms.
The split has reached unprecedented levels. For the first time, Ghannouchi has lost control of entire key regions. The rise of the Islamist bourgeoisie within the movement, and veneration of business class at the expense of local historical leaders, eroded the legitimacy of Ghannouchi within his party, in favour of the opposition currently led by prominent leader Abdelhamid Jlassi.
More than a month ago, before the death of President Caid Essebsi, Rached Ghannouchi commissioned his son-in-law, Rafik Abdel Salam, Ennahda's EO in charge of external relations, to prepare a situation assessment paper on the movement's position in the presidential race, and Ennahda's commitment not to run this race. Ghannouchi was fully aware of the magnitude of division within his movement, but he still hoped that his historical, organisational and symbolic experience, could carry weight against the internal opposition.
The opposition currently consists of a group of central and regional leaders, not united in their ideas, but united behind their differences with the EO. This group believes that the passive participation of the movement in managing political affairs in the country has become harmful to the movement. This is especially true in relation to its grass roots, and the movement must break with its policy of hiding behind fragile alliances in order to exercise power, as the pretexts on which this approach was based in 2013 no longer exist. These pretexts are the fear of an unstable regional situation, especially in Egypt following the collapse of the Muslim Brotherhood government.
On the other hand, Ghannouchi believes that regional and international dangers are even more acute, and that the movement's control of the presidency will get it caught in the crossfire, especially with powers granted by the Constitution to the president in managing the foreign relations file. He believes that the situation will put it in a difficult position with its grass-roots and external allies, namely Turkey and Qatar.
Ghannouchi and his group went last Saturday, almost certain that they would win the battle within the Shura Council. But what happened was completely unexpected, as the majority voted in favour of his candidacy, but the quorum, 51 members, was not available to adopt the resolution. This necessitated keeping the Shura Council sessions open, until Tuesday night, when an unprecedented coup occurred in the balance of power, and the majority voted for his candidacy. This forced the EO and its president Ghannouchi to propose Vice President Abdelfattah Morou, as stipulated by the internal law of the movement, to be a candidate in the presidential race by 98 votes. After Ghannouchi found himself forced to propose a candidate, he chose Morou, on the grounds of Morou's relatively good international reputation.
But the Ghannouchi group still believes that this candidacy, if it wins, will not be in the movement’s interest. Rafik Abdel Salam wrote on the night of the Shura Council meeting, trying to influence voting: “Normally, parties are running for all positions, in an open and fair competition, and this the original reason for which political parties and bodies were created, but everyone should be aware that we are facing abnormal situations, so that warding off evil takes precedence over bringing benefits, and puts protection of the country’s interests ahead of the circumstantial considerations that concern Ennahda.
“What Tunisia needs in the next phase is a consensus candidate who is not hostile to revolutionary orientations and is open to democratic options. Consensus is a strategic choice that we must maintain in the years ahead, not because it is morally good, but because it is useful and practical. It was thanks to consensus that we were able to protect Tunisian experience from the scourge of strife and chaos, and we have locked many doors of evil. This option may not be perfect, but in the end it remains the least bad for us and for others.''