Khadija T. Moalla, PhD, a development specialist with twenty-five years experience, ten in senior leadership positions at the United Nations, and an expert in international law, focused on issues of gender equality, women’s equality, the rule of law, and civil society
“Leadership is my ability to create a new future; to listen deeply, speak responsibly and transform disempowering societal narratives, through and based on universal values”! So said Dr. Monica Sharma, an expert on leadership development, at the Radical Transformational Leadership workshop in Oslo in March 2019.
As much as it is true that asking the right question is half the answer, reflecting on the challenges through the right lenses and using the right tools is even more important. The search for the solution has to start by thinking strategically, and this requires approaching the reality from new perspectives and frames and to do so with integrity and authenticity. The monopoly of so-called experts in leadership positions in most global and national institutions has to be broken. The field has to be invested by committed agent of change.
In the case of Tunisia today, this approach calls for debunking the dominant fallacies being propagated by the Muslim Brotherhood and its acolytes and hidden supporters in the West about the recent developments in this country. The task rests on the shoulders of committed agents of change, whether they live in Tunisia or elsewhere. In this ultimate struggle against the Brotherhood, nobody can afford the luxury of staying neutral. We all live in the same global village, and we are all facing the same enemy, whether it calls itself Daesh, Al-Shabab, Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or the Muslim Brotherhood.
On 25 July 2021, the anniversary of the proclamation of the Tunisian Republic, President Kaïs Saïed suspended the Parliament for thirty days, lifted parliamentary immunity, dismissed the Prime Minister, and assumed executive authority. As he argued, these measures are largely justified under Article 80 of the Constitution, which was adopted in 2014—at a time when the Muslim Brotherhood was in charge of these things.
Article 80 affirms that when there is “a state of imminent danger threatening the integrity of the country and the country’s security and independence, [the president] is entitled to take the measures necessitated by this exceptional situation, after consulting the Prime Minister and the Speaker of Parliament.” As the speaker of the house and the prime minister were the main culprits in creating the imminent danger, the letter of the law gave way to its spirit.
The dominant narrative championed by the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters is built around three main fallacies:
Fallacy 1: Tunisian people were living in a democracy and the President’s actions are tantamount to a coup d’état led by a new autocrat.
The democracy in Tunisia was a façade benefiting only the rich, the political Islamist leadership, and their allies, not the Tunisian people. It had a devastating impact on the people. Two million Tunisian are currently living under the poverty line and one million youth are unemployed. The country may have no other option but to request a restructuring of its external debt which had ballooned to close to 100 percent of its GDP.
Fallacy 2: What happened between 17 December 2010 and 14 January 2011 was a revolution and what the President did on 25 July 2021 is a counter-revolution.
Neither what happened in the winter of 2010-11, nor what happened in summer of 2021, qualify as revolution or counter-revolution. 2011 was an uprising, or as I qualify it: an earthquake, a wake-up call for Tunisia’s leadership by the people who said, “Enough is enough!” The same thing happened again on 25 July, when the people again had to go to the street to shout their anger against the worst decade in the history of the country since independence. The President didn’t have any choice other than to take the measure he announced. If he didn’t, he would have lost all legitimacy with the people who handed him a landslide victory in the presidential elections of 2019 under a parliamentarian regime with limited presidential power.
Fallacy 3: The Muslim Brotherhood were the ones behind the uprising in 2011 and the custodian of democracy during this last decade.
The Brotherhood leadership, in fact, were in hiding outside Tunisia, as were most Islamists during the rule of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Most of the Brothers were in Western countries, as it happens, and only returned to Tunisia after the fall of President Ben Ali. The Brotherhood then abused the nascent democratic process to consolidate ever-more power, driving the country into the worst economic and financial crisis it has known. The youth of the nation have been squandered working for minimal wages in the civil service, while the Brotherhood channelled state funds to its militants.
In closing, let me cite Rakia Moalla, an economics PhD from Berkley and a former senior IMF official, who beautifully summarized what needs to be done:
“The international community would do a disservice to the Tunisian people and to itself by championing the new constitution and the institutions emanating from it. Only by changing this constitution and the electoral law do we stand a chance of setting Tunisia’s progress towards democracy back on the right path. The experience of the past 10 years with the theocrats of Ennahda won’t be lost on the Tunisian people. You could trust that they will know how to stop any would-be autocrat in his tracks.”
European Eye on Radicalization aims to publish a diversity of perspectives and as such does not endorse the opinions expressed by contributors. The views expressed in this article represent the author alone.