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Tunisian prosecutors to investigate leading Islamist party for corruption

The activities of Ennahda, the dominant party in parliament, were suspended this week by President Saied, who has been accused of overstepping his power

A Tunisian woman looks at the army-barricaded parliament building in the capital Tunis, on July 26, 2021, after the president dismissed the prime minister and ordered parliament closed for 30 days. (Yassine Mahjoub/AFP)
A Tunisian woman looks at the army-barricaded parliament building in the capital Tunis, on July 26, 2021, after the president dismissed the prime minister and ordered parliament closed for 30 days. (Yassine Mahjoub/AFP)

TUNIS, Tunisia — Tunisian prosecutors have opened investigations into alleged foreign campaign funding and anonymous donations to Islamist movement Ennahda and two other political parties, according to local media.

Ennahda is the dominant party in parliament, whose activities were suspended this week by President Kais Saied. Tunisia’s leader also fired the prime minister and key cabinet members, saying it was necessary to stabilize the country during an economic and health crisis. But Ennahda and other critics accused him of overstepping his power and threatening Tunisia’s young democracy.

The spokesperson for the financial prosecutor’s office, Mohsen Daly, said on Wednesday on Mosaique FM radio that the investigations were opened in mid-July.

He also announced investigations were opened earlier this month into the country’s national anti-corruption agency — suspected itself of corruption — and into Tunisia’s Truth and Dignity Commission created to confront abuses during Tunisia’s decades of autocratic rule.

Calm prevailed in Tunis, the capital, four days after nationwide protests that ended with the president’s decision to centralize power in his hands “until social peace returns to Tunisia and until we save the state.” The following day, on Monday, security forces raided the Tunis offices of Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite news network, and shut it down.

The Cairo bureau chief for The New York Times tweeted on Wednesday that she and her team reporting in Tunis were detained for two hours by police. “We’re continuing to report in Tunis,” Vivian Yee tweeted. She provided no details.

Supporters of the Tunisian islamist Ennahdha Party shout slogans and wave Palestinian flags during a speech delivered by Ismail Haniya, prime minister in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, on January 8, 2012 in Tunis (photo credit: Mohammed Al-Ostaz / Flash 90)
Supporters of the Tunisian Islamist Ennahdha Party shout slogans and wave Palestinian flags during a speech delivered by Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, on January 8, 2012 in Tunis. (Mohammed Al-Ostaz/Flash 90)

Ennahda’s leader, who is the speaker of parliament, said on Tuesday that his party is a perfect target to blame for Tunisia’s crescendo of economic, health and other problems. Coronavirus infections are notably ravaging the country, aggravating public anger.

Rachid Ghannouchi told The Associated Press that his party is working to form a “national front” to counter Saied’s decision to suspend the legislature, to pressure the president “to demand the return to a democratic system.”

He conceded that Ennahda, which has been accused of focusing on its internal concerns instead of managing the coronavirus, “needs to review itself, as do other parties.”

Tunisia, which ignited the Arab Spring a decade ago when protests led to the overthrow of its longtime autocratic leader, is often regarded as the only success story of those uprisings. But democracy didn’t bring prosperity.

Tunisian Islamist Ennahda Party leader and founder, Rached Ghannouchi, answers journalists’ questions as he arrives to vote in the country’s first post-revolution parliamentary election, on October 26, 2014. (AFP/Fethi Belaid)

Reactions in Tunis to Saied’s decisions were mixed, with some hoping they bring stability and others worried he seized too much power.

Omar Oudherni, a retired army brigadier and security expert, said the president’s moves, coming after a day of nationwide protests, “put an end to the development of anger… This decision calmed the situation and protected the state and citizens, and even the ruling political parties, from the people’s wrath.”

He played down concerns of a return to authoritarianism.

“The Tunisian people will not be silent on any tyrant,” and will resist if the president goes too far, he said. “Doing what is good will receive support, and if he wants dictatorship, the people will sweep it up as they swept others.”

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