Abdelhamid Jelassi, vice-president of the Ennahda movement has, like most members of his party, has insisted that the movement is open to dialogue and also prepared to lose seats in the coming elections. Yet he also claims that the experienced leadership of Rachid Ghannouchi is exempary and important to the tumultuous transition period. 

Abdelhamid Jelassi, vice-president of the Ennahda movement has, like most members of his party, has insisted that the movement is open to dialogue and also prepared to lose seats in the coming elections. Yet he also claims that the experienced leadership of Rachid Ghannouchi is exempary and important to the tumultuous transition period. 

While he does not deny there are divisions in his party he also says freedom of opinion and differing beliefs are not discouraged within the movement, which was banned under former President Ben Ali.

Aware of Ennahda’s possible descent from power, Vice-President Jelassi says Ennahda has a unique “recipe” for its shifting status of power.


Abdelhamid Jelassi, between the Ennahda of the struggling days and the Ennahda in power, have the realities on the ground imposed any change in attitudes and ideological visions within your movement?

The revolution has surprised the entire political elite, which was required to adapt because the political landscape that prevailed over the last 40 years has become saturated with a culture of protest and controversy rather than a culture of ruling. 

 The change in political positions may seem easy, but the change in the culture and mindset is a difficult issue. Our country is witnessing an on-going revolution and the Ennahda Movement is witnessing a similar revolution in its political culture and in its methods of ruling. We are actually suffering from within from a number of obstacles and difficulties, but I think that the Ennahda movement was capable, more than all other players in the scene, to cope with the rapid developments.

The parties that have chosen to be in the opposition, are still carrying the mentalities of the 1970’s in dealing with politics. If some believe that consensus or participation, on which the Ennahda Movement is keen, is just a political choice, this is not true.  Consensus and participation are convictions and thus we dealt with these fundamental issues such as freedom, pluralism, participation and women’s rights not because of political opportunism but because these were our deeply rooted convictions from the beginning.

This is because of the intellectual interpretive judgments within the Ennahda Movement and it is also part of its literature, which was tackled by Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi, who is not only considered a leader of a political movement but also one of the most prominent people in the renewal of political Islam. Like Dr. Abdul Majid al-Najjar, Ghannouchi has outlined the purposes of Shariah law, how to be a Muslim and a contemporary person at the same time.

The post revolutionary challenge Ennahda Movement needed to deal with after the revolution is how to reconcile between three parallel tracks: the reconstruction of the society in order to improve it, the rebuilding of the state and the rebuilding of the Ennahda Movement.  The Movement was able to surprise everybody with an election program for Tunisia as we dream of and as we want to see it socially, politically and economically in the future. 

After the elections, the movement chose power.  Was this because of its eagerness to rule or was it a rational choice imposed on the movement because of the certain contexts prevailing in the country?

In the month of July 2011, the Shura Council of the Movement convened and elections were held after three months. At that time, there was an agreement among the constituent commission that the movement is not yet ready, on the level of programs as well as on the level of structures, to reach power.  At that time, we decided to participate in the elections in order to win and to actively participate in the formulation of the country’s Constitution.  After the elections, a very important question presented itself:  If we don’t rule the country who is going to do so? 

At that time too, the only apparatus capable of engaging and filling the vacuum in the state was the old one. This has made us courageously engage ourselves in the administration of the state’s affairs although we were not ready for this very critical stage. 

Sometimes you do not choose your political position but you find yourself in such a position under certain conditions. Power for us was a risk rather than a spoil but there are others who do not believe this and think that it was a spoil!

Today, do you regret taking this risk as you call it?

No, if we are in the same position again, we will make the same choice to serve the interest of the country although we, as a Movement, were not well structured and we did not have the tools to rule, and despite the ideological tugging and political struggle, which contributed to disturbing the tracks and the atmosphere. We are proud of what we have done. If time goes back, we would introduce some adjustments, but originally we would take the same choice, because it is the safest one for the country.

Do you think that the ruling experience, described with failure by more than one party has made the Movement loose part of its popularity?

The democratic transition experience is an open warfare between the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary forces. These forces are not represented in the deep components of the state only, but also deep into the ideological roots. Some opponents of the Movement do not only oppose its performance but also its existence. Today, they are questioning the possibility that the Movement has a project that combines both tradition and modernity. This in turn is creating ruling difficulties that might affect the popularity of any governing party passing under similar conditions.  Professional politicians depend on their popular acceptance, but we have depended on our responsibility in making the transitional process as a whole succeeds.  We wanted to put the country on the safe track even if the price is the discontent of some of our members, part of our popular base and part of the people who believe that there is a disrupted performance.

Does the Ennahda Movement fear the abandonment of power? 

No, we are not afraid of abandoning power. 

Do you think that the Tunisians will again support the Ennahda Movement in the upcoming elections?

Yes, although they may seem to be somehow complaining about its performance.  On election day, the people will show their gratitude and reward Ennahda for its efforts.  Its competitors did not live up to the level of responsibility and many of them, during the conflict period, have tried to manipulate the state.

The Movement does not fear the elections because its project is not only to rule but rather to strengthen the cultural revolution, which has made us popular and known among the people.  Even if in the upcoming elections we become the opposition, we will act as an honest and authentic opposition as we were when we reached power. 

Does it hurt you, as a vice president, to hear that the era of the Ennahda Movement was characterized by assassinations, terrorism and interruption in the functioning of the state? 

I have mixed feelings. When I hear such accusations I feel that there is injustice.  These are mere populist arguments. All the events that have taken place are part of the repercussions of the difficult transition phase to democracy.  

The Movement’s source of concern today is the difficult economic and security conditions with their internal and external risks.  What is more worrying to us is the ability to complete the transitional phase.  Without instilling the values of freedom and peaceful transition of power the intrinsic aims of the revolution of dignity, social justice and freedom of thought and expression will not be achieved.

Today, there are those who accuse you of trying to derail the democratic transition phase in order to extend your presence in power.  How would you comment on these accusations?

It will be remembered throughout history that the Ennahda Movement is one of the very few parties that has agreed to hand over power without elections and without being toppled down by the street. We agreed to hand over power on own will and based on our national responsibility to a national consensus government on the condition that the other constituent processes are completed such as the constitution and elections. 

It is said that the Movement is afraid of leaving power for fear of being held accountable or for fear of a coup against it. 

This is not true. Our fears are not related to the movement. It is true that we have fears and worries, but these are more linked to the path the country is going to take, such as the postponement of the elections. 

Which political party (or parties) do you believe is committed to the ‘clean’ rules of the political game today?

In general, there is a respected and moderate stream such as Afaq, Tounes Party, the Republican Party and the Democratic Alliance. This is a rational, moderate and pragmatic stream and we respect it. It is for this reason that we wanted the ruling coalition to be formed by four or five parties rather than three. We are convinced that our country, for the coming 15 years, cannot be ruled in any other way than by consensus and alliances. 

A few days ago, a prominent leader in the Ennahda Movement walked out and confirmed that the Movement will witness many defections in the coming days.  As a leader in the Movement, are you afraid that your party will disintegrate at this very delicate stage?

The Ennahda Movement has a recipe for these splits and withdrawals.  The recipe is as follows: first, we acknowledge the right of our members to have different opinions; second, we admit the importance of providing an opportunity for the different approaches to interact together on problems and solutions (in the Ennahda Movement we do not stop anybody from expressing his opinion); third, affiliation with the Movement is voluntary and optional and therefore walking out is a right which is respected. However, I believe that with dialogue, we can avoid any possible disintegration. But for any freedom fighter who believes that he should look for new horizons, we will wish him good luck and pray for him.

Are you afraid of disintegration within the Ennahda Movement? 

No, I am not afraid of this happening.  I am comfortable with this magic recipe.