Rached Ghannouchi, the 81-year-old leader of Tunisia’s largest political party Ennahda and the most vocal opponent of President Kais Saied, was arrested on Monday, April 17th. According to a statement by Ennahda, Ghannouchi was arrested after a lengthy search of his home. Nejib Chebbi, Ghannouchi’s lawyer, informed the Associated Press that his client was being held in the El Aouina jail in the capital city of Tunis.
“Ennahdha denounces this extremely serious development and calls for the immediate release of Rached Ghannouchi,” Ennahda’s statement said.
Ghannouchi’s arrest comes after he publicly made statements that the eradication of political Islam, principles on which his political party was founded, would lead to a civil war in the country. “Tunisia without Ennahdha, without political Islam, without the left, or any other component, is a project for civil war,” he said during a meeting on Saturday, April 14th.
The political leader’s arrest also comes during a tumultuous time in the North African country. Since President Saied assumed full political control of Tunisia, he has taken more steps to further entrench his power. This includes arresting those who have firmly opposed his actions. According to The Guardian, Saied’s authoritarian regime has arrested over 20 prominent voices in Tunisian society since the beginning of the year. This includes politicians, former members of cabinet, trade unionists, and business people. However, Ghannouchi is the most powerful politician to be detained. He was the speaker in Tunisia’s Parliament before it was disbanded by Saied in 2021.
To add insult to injury, Saied’s government took a further step and banned meetings from taking place at all Ennahda offices in the country. Ennahda party officials claimed police authorities reportedly raided their headquarters early on Tuesday, April 18th, a day after the arrest of their leader. The closure of Ennahda was closely followed by the closure of the Salvation Front’s headquarters. The Salvation Front is the coalition of Tunisian opposition parties. Ennahda and other smaller opposition parties form the coalition. Opposition political party members said these actions by Saied’s regime are designed to slow the opposition’s activities and perhaps initiate the banning of Ennahda and opposition parties as a whole.
“It seems to be an attempt to ban the Ennahda and hit opposition,” Riadh Chaibi, an Ennahda senior official, told Reuters.
Ghannouchi is no stranger to persecution by his political opponents. He spent more than 20 years in exile when Tunisia was under the leadership of deceased dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Ghannouchi only returned to Tunisia in 2011. In November 2022, he stood in court with his political party accused of helping jihadist travel to Syria and Iraq. In February this year, he faced terrorist related charges for allegedly calling police officers tyrants.
LittleAfrica News has previously covered Tunisia’s political turmoil since Saeid’s power grab, including the mistreatment of Black citizens, immigrants, and the disbanding of the nationals Parliament.