Tunisian political rivals hint at thawing relations

Tunisian political rivals hint at thawing relations
Statements from Ennahdha and Nidaa Tounes suggest they could work together in parliament. But how would this play out with Ennahdha's pro-Mazouki base?
3 min read
03 December, 2014
Ghannouchi faces a dilemma that could split his party [Getty]

The relationship between the two largest political parties in the Tunisian parliament, Nidaa Tounes and Ennahdha, may be starting to thaw.

Despite the lack of any substantive statements on relations, the door to mediation efforts between the two has remained open, and both are open to the possibility that their interests may converge at some point.

Their interests may coincide over the presidency, parliament and the government.

Hints of warming relations emerged in statements from Beji Caid Essebsi, the leader of Nidaa Tounes, and his Ennahdha counterpart Rachid Ghannouchi. On Sunday 30 November, Essebsi said his party wanted to talk to other parties about alliances, but one of those parties had decided to support another side.

That indicated Ennahdha had chosen to support Moncef Marzouki, Essebsi's main rival to become president, and not forge an alliance with Nidaa Tounes.

However on Monday and on the eve of the first session of the new parliament, Ghannouchi said it remained possible that an Ennahdha MP could become the parliamentary speaker - meaning rapprochement with Nidaa Tounes, the largest party in parliament, remained possible.

A day later, Ghannouchi said there were "new understandings".

     Ghannouchi said it remained possible that an Ennahdha MP could become the parliamentary speaker

The Nidaa-Ennahdha relationship is hostage to an agreement over the presidency. Nidaa postponed all talk of alliances alliances until after the presidential elections, making Ennahda's stance on the presidential race crucial.

Nidaa Tounes believes Ennahdha chose to support Moncef Marzouki against Essebsi, its candidate. Ennahdha's declaration it would remain neutral before the elections was a mere formality as everyone in Tunisia was talking about "instructions to vote for Marzouki", which were circulated in the hours before the vote.

A number of Ennahda's supporters also acted as observers in polling centres on Marzouki’s behalf. This prompted Nidaa to regard Ennahdha’s declared neutrality as null and void.

And there lies the importance of Ghannouchi's statement about the speaker of parliament. If Essebsi loses the presidential race, Nidaa Tounes will not give up the post of speaker of parliament. If Essebsi wins, Nidaa will cede the position to Ennahdha and form a broader government, though that may require difficult negotiations.

Ennahdha faces a real dilemma. Supporting Essebsi in the presidential runoff would be an apparent u-turn that could put it in on collision course with its Marzouki-supporting base and cause divisions between the leadership and the rank and file.

A source told al-Araby al-Jadeed that some of Ennahda's young supporters have called for neutrality in the runoff. Although those calls are few, they resonate with some Ennahdha leaders as they reassess the risks of picking sides.

This is an edited translation from the original Arabic.