European Eye on Radicalization
During a press conference on 9 February, the “Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi Defense Committee” in Tunisia revealed that a criminal complaint had been submitted to the permanent military court in Tunisia against a number of senior members of Ennahda, the local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Ennahda leader Rashid Ghannouchi, the judge Bashir al-Akrami, Mansour Rashid, Najah Hajj Latif, and security leaders, including Wahid Toujani, Mehrez Zouari, Mustafa Ben Omar, Atef El Amrani and Al-Azhar Longo, have been reported for different crimes, including money laundering.
The Defence Committee spoke of the existence of a secret financial apparatus linked to Ghannouchi, in addition to communication with foreign parties, which aimed to harm national interests.
As far as the role of Al-Akrami is concerned, the Committee highlighted that the former prosecutor at the court of Tunis never completed or followed up on more than 6,000 criminal reports relating to terrorism allegations and that he intentionally neglected his duties as prosecutor and his previous duties as investigative judge.
Speaking of Belaid and Brahmi, Left-wing politicians assassinated in 2013, the Committee reminds everyone: “Only ten people were prosecuted while the remaining sixteen people, including Rashid Ghannouchi, did not appear in court. We have hence decided to file a complaint against all the judges who have concealed evidence and disrupted the progress of this case.”
The Muslim Brotherhood in Decline
Undeniably, the Muslim Brotherhood in general and Ennahda in particular are facing a deep crisis—in their internal structures, and in their support systems with states and societies in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. In the MENA, there is increasing open criticism and mistrust of the Brotherhood; in the West, the situation is scarcely better. It all adds up to a gloomy near-term picture for the movement.
In Tunisia, Ennahda now stands accused of involvement in terrorism and corruption. Experts point out that the Tunisian Brotherhood is experiencing a struggle for survival after losing power, and a significant factor in this is a vulnerability to legal retribution for actions during Ennahda’s decade in power.
In addition to the security and financial prosecutions, the risk for Ennahda is that investigations open all the other files. Whether it is political assassinations, terrorism, administrative abuse, or foreign interference in Tunisia, there are cases for Ennahda to answer of doing too little to prevent or punish these activities, where the Party did not outright collaborate in them.
In terms of foreign financing for their electoral campaigns, for example, this is a formal accusation that was made against Ennahda as far back as the summer of 2021, days after Ennahda’s removal from power, by the Tunisian state financial prosecutors. What these sources were has been kept quiet so far, but the support given by the governments of Qatar and Turkey for the Muslim Brotherhood all around the region is hardly a secret.
The settling of accounts is not easy. As the Secretary-General of the People’s Movement, Zuhair Maghzaoui, put it: “The battle is not easy because the people who ruled the country and ruled the state for ten years, find themselves today in the process of getting out of this state and dismantling their network of interests.” Evidence is being moved, hidden, and destroyed, and some of those wanted for prosecution are fleeing Tunisian jurisdiction.
Increasing the pressure, a few months ago, the Free Constitutional Party called for classifying Ennahda as a terrorist organization. This has not happened yet. However, the action would imply taking measures such as freezing funds and holding its founders accountable.
Ennahda crisis falls within an extremely difficult situation for Tunisia itself. Tunisia, which has been always seen abroad as the best outcome of the so-called Arab Spring, might soon face national bankruptcy. State salaries were delayed in January amid complex negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), while Tunisia’s debts are now nearly 100 percent of the country’s GDP.
Due to this worsening economic situation and widespread unemployment, social inequalities and strong regional disparities, Tunisians in 2021 topped the list of migrants arriving in Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Around 51 percent of people ages 18 to 29 say they are constantly thinking about migration, according to research by International Alert Tunisia.
Under pressure from the IMF, Tunisian president Kais Saied announced a political road map in December 2021 and vowed to carry out a process of national dialogue. The election of a new parliament, however, will not come until the end of the year.
What Now for Ennahda?
Historically, the Muslim Brotherhood and Muslim Brotherhood-like organizations have taken advantage of social and political crises, filling in where governments were not able to provide for their citizens’ needs. From economic downturns to earthquakes, from poor education systems to unemployment, the Brothers—and Sisters—have always been able to portray themselves as the only alternative to chaos, the only agents capable of providing effective and concrete forms of welfare on the ground.
This welfarist, covering-the-gaps strategy has been a crucial component of the Brotherhood’s operational practice and its ideological narrative—to itself, and to potential recruits. Which is what makes the current revelations so significant.
If all the corruption and money laundering charges against the Brotherhood are confirmed, how can they continue to present their movement as the sole source of social and economic security for the poor, the one reliable safety net for their fellow citizens? Most likely, they cannot.
Ennahda is experiencing a moment of existential uncertainty. It is not just that it is still unclear whether the organization can reinvent itself to safeguard the role it has carved out for itself in Tunisian life since 2011. The question is whether Ennahda has anything at all to offer Tunisians—and this is a question facing the entire spectrum of Islamist forces in the region.