The Future of Al-Nahda Movement under the New Tunisian Constitution

Hours after the Tunisian President, Kais Saied, ratified the new constitution of the country, which was held in a referendum on July 25, Al-Nahda movement, the political arm of the MB in Tunisia, on Friday, August 19, considered that “the Constitution of 2022 is illegitimate” and that it came “to legitimize the coup against the Constitution of the revolution, its institutions and gains,” and that “it does not address the country’s problems, but rather enshrines authoritarianism and impunity,” as described by it.

A New Stage

President Kais Saied announced on Wednesday evening, August 17, the entry into force of the new constitution after the announcement of the official results of the referendum on it, on a “historic day of eternal days” in the country, pledging to develop new policies and different laws.

In a speech broadcasted on the state television, the Tunisian president said that it is “the day of conformity between constitutional legitimacy and popular legitimacy”, considering that what he has done is “correcting the course of the revolution and the course of history”, after “darkness reigned, and injustice spread everywhere”.

Saeed’s ratification of the new constitution of the country came after the Electoral Commission announced the final results of the referendum, and the voting rate was 94.60% “yes”, equivalent to (2) million and (6748) answers with “yes”, and the answer rate was 5.40% “no”, equal to (148) thousand and (723) answers with “no”.

Saeed implicitly accused the Al-Nahda judges of “turning the legal pyramid” upside down”, saying: “Although this day is not a day to enter into a legal dispute, it is necessary to recall the decision of the Administrative Court dated June 26, 2013, which stated in one letter the following: the decisions issued by the Constituent Assembly within the framework of its constituent, legislative, supervisory functions or other related issues are by nature outside the jurisdiction of the administrative judge”.

In response to criticism about the unconstitutionality of the referendum on the Constitution, Saeed pointed out that “some want to insist on the mistake, and are still justifying the law on elections and referendum,” stressing that “the referendum provided for in that law is related to the referendum under the Constitution that ended”.

The Tunisian president announced that a new electoral law will be drawn up in the coming period, and the Constitutional Court will be established as soon as possible “to preserve the Constitution, especially the protection of the rights and freedoms stipulated in the new constitution”.

Constitutional Amendments…

The new constitution replaces the 2014 constitution, which was drafted three years after the uprising against the rule of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Which was considered the forerunner of the so-called “Arab Spring”.

The head of State is given the full powers of the executive branch, the supreme command of the army and the ability to appoint a government without parliamentary approval, which opposition parties considered “returning Tunisia to the time of dictatorship again”.

The new constitution included a clear endorsement of a presidential system, in which the president no longer has only defense and foreign powers as stipulated by the 2014 constitution, but has expanded to include further the powers of appointing the government and judges and reducing the influence of the former parliament.

The new Tunisian constitution established a second parliamentary chamber called the “National Council of Regions”, which is particularly concerned with economic issues.

The most prominent articles of the Constitution came in the following form:

  • Article 101 states that it is the president who appoints the prime minister, as well as members of the government, on the proposal of the prime minister, in a departure from the current system that gives parliament a key role in choosing governments.
  • Article 112 states that the government is accountable to the president, while Article 87 states that the president exercises executive functions with the assistance of the government.
  • Article 102 states that the president can dismiss the government or any of its members.
  • Article 109 provides that the president enjoys immunity for the duration of his term of office, and he may not be questioned about his actions while performing his duties.
  • Section 95 allows the president to take “extraordinary measures” if he considers that there is a “situation of imminent danger to the entity of the Republic, the security and independence of the country” after consulting the prime minister and parliament.
  • Section 106 gives the president the power to appoint those holding senior military and civilian positions based on proposals from the Prime Minister.

Among the controversial chapters in Tunisia, which are strongly criticized by human rights organizations, are related to the fifth and fifty-fifth items.

The fifth chapter states that “Tunisia is part of the Islamic nation, and the state alone must work, under a democratic system, to achieve the purposes of True Islam in the preservation of self, honor, money, religion and freedom”.

Chapter Fifty-five stipulates that”no restrictions shall be placed on the rights and freedoms guaranteed by this Constitution except by virtue of a law and as a necessity required by a democratic system and for the purpose of protecting the rights of others, or for the requirements of Public Security, National Defense, or public health”.

The Future of “Al-Nahda”

The adoption of the Constitution of the third republic is a new setback for the opposition, foremost of which is the Islamic Al-Nahda movement, which has worked to thwart it and question its results by challenging it.

After its ratification, the movement quickly rejected the new constitution, considering it “illegitimate”.

The movement said in a statement that the 2022 Constitution “does not address any of the country’s problems, but rather enshrines unilateralism, authoritarianism, and impunity,” calling on all democratic forces opposed to the “coup” to unite their efforts “in order to confront the imminent threat of dictatorship and accelerate consultation and dialogue to formulate a common vision to avoid the country’s risks of economic collapse and social explosion and pave the way to restore the democratic path that has been lost”.

Farid Ben-Belkacem, a researcher specializing in Islamic movements, considers that Al-Nahda, as the representative of MB political Islam in organizational terms, has declined its status, reduced its presence, lost its influential and polarizing ability in society, in addition to being politically excluded from the state organs. The new Constitution legally ended the rules of the system that was dominated by it, directing the policies of the state, imposing its authority on its institutions and controlling the political scene.

In a research paper published on the website of the “trends” Center for studies and research, Belkacem said that the future of the Al-Nahda movement at the stage of the political system stemming from the new constitution is open to multiple possibilities from an organizational point of view, depending on the balance of power internally and externally on the one hand, and the fate of the cases filed against it on the other. Considering that the closest of these possibilities is that political Islam “may deliberately take alternative organizational forms and work to avoid repeating its previous experiences in the eighties and Nineties of the twentieth century or the experience of the Egyptian MB after the collapse of the experience of their rule in the summer of 2013; in the sense of avoiding entering into clashes with the existing authorities, making its case turn into a security and judicial file, and seeking to maintain its presence in the political field, as a component of it and a representative of a segment of society, and if necessary, carrying out reviews according to the rules of the new system, waiting for opportunities to restore his original dress and his old established identity, taking advantage of his ability to maneuver and fight”.

From the ideological point of view, the researcher believes that the future of political Islam in Tunisia depends on several factors, the most prominent of which are three; the first factor concerns the fate of a network of associations and organizations active in civil society, whose role is to promote the ideology of political Islam in a soft way through Formative courses, lessons and trainings, including, for example, the International Union of Muslim scholars. The second factor is related to monitoring and drying up sources of funding, which can limit the ability of political Islam to move and expand, especially in the poor and marginalized social classes. The third factor, which is the most decisive factor, concerns the development of reform policies in educational and cultural programs, and the follow-up of religious discourses in accordance with a regenerative and enlightening vision in mosques and in the media.