With tempers flaring and the ruling Ennahda Movement experiencing volcanic eruptions within the party, members have been resigning in record numbers.   

Sahbi Atiq, a leading member of the Ennahda Movement and the head of its parliamentary bloc, said that his party still maintains its leading position despite being negatively affected by the way it had administrated power and because of the campaigns launched against it by its opponents.

With tempers flaring and the ruling Ennahda Movement experiencing volcanic eruptions within the party, members have been resigning in record numbers.   

Sahbi Atiq, a leading member of the Ennahda Movement and the head of its parliamentary bloc, said that his party still maintains its leading position despite being negatively affected by the way it had administrated power and because of the campaigns launched against it by its opponents.

Sahbi Atiq, to what extent can we say that the Ennahda Movement has lost its popular support because of the inability of its government to achieve the goals it had set for itself?

All opinion polls confirm that the Ennahda movement still maintains its popular support and that the political weakness suffered by the Ennahda is a phenomenon witnessed also by other political parties, without exception. This weakness has removed all masks and covers, but perhaps the Ennahda Movement was the one which was the least afflicted by this weakness.

Will the defections and resignations taking place inside Ennahda lead to the birth of a new movement from within the party before the next election?

Despite the differences and divides -some of which are surfacing while others are kept secret- the Ennahda Movement remained one of the most consistent parties. The resignations witnessed by the Ennahda Movement are modest and they took place because of anger and tension inside the party.

Until today, the Ennahda Movement hasn’t witness any serious resignation by its top leadership, unlike many other parties, where the resignations of high ranking leaders have led to imbalances. 

Regarding our bloc in the Constituent Assembly and despite continuous conflicts, after more than two years of work in the assembly, we continue to be the most coherent one. Ennahda did not witness real resignations because of discipline, harmony and sacrifice within the bloc as well as perseverance for the sake of Tunisia.

But Lutfi Zaytoun, a leading member of your party and a former minister said that the government is confused and it is taking arbitrary decisions. Can we say that the Ennahda Movement is admitting its failure in the administration of the country’s affairs?

The statements of Lutfi Zaytoun express his personal opinion.  Personally, I believe that the Ennahda Movement succeeded in administrating the country’s affairs and was able to do a lot for the country although some consider that it has failed.  The truth is that it had been excluded and its image became distorted because of the media. Moreover, the protests in the different parts of the country have made it more confused but it was able to win in the end despite the attempts of those who wanted it to fail.

Nevertheless, some say that the Ennahda Movement has lost control over its popular base when it chose to enter into a dialogue with its opponents, and after abandoning slogans such as accountability and the law on fortifying the revolution and also because it has recently abandoned the amendments made to the rules of procedure?

It is natural that some decisions of the Ennahda Movement raise tension and anxiety within the ranks of its popular bases and it is also natural that this anxiety has reached the protest levels.  The stringent discourse of our popular base is because there is a fear that a coup might take place against the state institutions and the revolution and because there is a fear that the Ennahda Movement might be removed from power.

In fact, we are not intending to leave power. The Ennahda Movement has decided to deal with the circumstances that were created after the recent terrorist acts such as assassinations, the killing of soldiers and suicide bombings in order to save Tunisia.

On the other hand, the Ennahda Movement has chosen the principle of not leading the country, in order not to be accused of forging the next election.  So, it has chosen to hold the elections under a neutral government to ensure fairness and transparency. This decision came as a blow from the Ennahda Movement to everyone who accused it of upholding power.

You speak about your intentions to make the national dialogue succeed and that you want it to reach consensus. However, you consider that no one shall have any authority above that of the National Constituent Assembly and it has the right to reject or accept the results of the national dialogue. 

No one shall have the right to control the Constituent Assembly. It will continue to be the highest authority in the country. This is what we always emphasize as a movement, leaders and popular base of the Ennahda.  Our stance is similar to that of the MPs who withdrew and said that no one has authority over the council, which is the highest legislative authority in the country.  Some did not understand the relationship between the national dialogue and the Constituent Assembly.  We consider this relation as based on support and on reaching consensus and not as “compensation relation” as some may see it. 

Here, the final decision shall be taken by the council, which will never cede its powers until a new government is formed or until the completion of the drafting of the constitution and the birth of the Independent Electoral Commission.

I remember that in a meeting with Hussein Abassi, the Secretary General of the General Union of Tunisian Workers, told me that the Council is the master of itself and the national dialogue is not a substitute for the Council, but rather to support the consensus between the parties.  When parties reach agreements, all differences between MPs of the council disappear and laws will be passed and quickly ratified.

What are the cases that make you, as head of the Ennahda Movement bloc in the National Constituent Assembly, reject the consensus reached outside it?

The National Constituent Assembly as a main authority interacts with all consensus and proposals in the framework of accelerating the finalization of this transitional phase and expanding the circle of consensus. We, as the Ennahda Movement bloc, were always keen on consensus and on the success of the national dialogue and we will support all consensus reached.

If we assume the success of this phase and the resumption of the national dialogue once again, there is a deep point of contention between Ennahda and other political parties centered on the provisional organization of power.

The national dialogue will  soon be resumed. I consider that the next real barrier is the “Little Constitution” because it is too early and premature to talk about it. However, transitional events that are going to be discussed are the ones that are going to create conflicts within the council.

The abandonment of the amendments to the rules of procedure (these amendments gave absolute powers to the parliamentary majority and were considered by the opposition as a coup. They were also refused by the Ettakatol Party, the partner of the Ennahda Movement) has created lots of controversy inside the council. Some of your deputies vowed that there will be a shock during the voting session. What did you do in order to control your deputies? 

By reaching a consensus, we want to defuse disputes. These amendments have in fact disrupted the normal functioning of the national dialogue and the major constituency tracks such as the formation of the Independent Commission for Elections and the completion of the constitution.

The Constitution, which the people of Tunisia as well as the whole world have been waiting for for more than two years, cannot be completed without consensus and the success of the national dialogue.  The counting committee met and our bloc decided to withdraw the amendments because they became a source of conflict. We took this brave and big step because we thought it serves the interest of Tunisia.

It is only natural that this decision creates all this tension and anger among the deputies of the Ennahda Movement as well as among those of other blocs.  It is not easy to abandon decisions reached by a general session held by the highest authority of the National Constituent Assembly.

Fethi Ayadi, head of Ennahda’s Shura Council spoke about the pressures inside the parliamentary bloc of the Ennahda movement to get out of the crisis. You are the head of the bloc, is this true?

There is lots of anger inside the Ennahda Movement bloc. We tried to address this issue by summoning Hamadi Jebali, Secretary General of the Ennahda Movement and Sheikh Abdel Fattah Moro, its vice president as well as Samir Dello, the Minister of Human Rights and Transitional Justice to calm down the tension and anger among those who are refusing any changes to the draft amendments.

Here, I want to note that everything said about a deal reached outside the council and which made the Ennahda Movement abandon these amendments is not true at all. The reality is that the Ennahda Movement felt that this brave step does not mean that it is yielding but rather it is serving Tunisia’s interests which are more important than anything else.  Everybody should return and sit under the dome of Pardo and work.  They should only work.

There are rumors that there is a deal reached between Ennahda and Nida Tounes.  Are these rumors correct?

We reject any deal with Nida Tounes. Everything said is mere interpretation and is unfounded. There is nothing other than national dialogue, which gathers us with Nida Tounes. Any deal reached with this party will be signed under the dome of the national dialogue. 

The deputies who withdrew decided that their return to the council is not linked with the abandonment of the rules of procedure’s amendments, but rather with the resumption of the national dialogue.

The national dialogue will soon resume. However, each party shall take its full responsibility. For our part, we will always take brave steps that will boost the democratic transition path.

What concerns us as a bloc within the Ccuncil and as a political party is that these amendments brought about a crisis.  This is why we undertook this initiative because we are aware of the importance of the continuation of the national dialogue and reaching consensus in order to overcome all differences and release the tension. Today, the Ennahda Movement, as a bloc and as a party cannot be held responsible or blamed.  Now, the Tunisian people can know the parties who stand behind the disruption and are using every party to thwart the national dialogue.

There were many decisions and events that had confused the work of the deputies and made them unable to abide by the quartet roadmap for national dialogue. Do you think it would have been better not to restrict the work of the council with a limited period of time?

This is right. It would have been much better not bind the national dialogue with a limited time scheduled before its launch. It would have been better to prepare for a preliminary stage during which an alternative neutral government is formed, the constitution is ratified, and an Election Commission is formed and then the start of the national dialogue.

We, as the Ennahda Movement, submitted this proposal but the opposition, especially the Popular Front has rushed things. Today we suffer from this deep systematic imbalance and we are in the process of addressing it after the suspension of the national dialogue in its first phase. The success of the national dialogue requires a philosophy because it is “a package of commitments.” This means that the two tracks, the government track and the constituent track should be completed at the same time and should be ratified after reaching consensus on them. 

Some people consider that it was better to directly hold elections.  Where does the Ennahda Movement stand with regard to this proposal?

This is a good proposal, however, it is difficult to have it implemented under the current circumstances.