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Tunisia’s Ennahda party rebrands for election race

TUNIS: Chastened by its early experiences of holding power in post-revolution Tunisia, Islamist-inspired party Ennahda has moderated its image and selected lawyer Abdelfattah Mourou as its candidate for next Sunday’s presidential election. Hesitant at first, Ennahda party only entered its first-ever presidential contest after polling was brought forward following the July death of incumbent President…

Tunisia’s Ennahda party rebrands for election race

TUNIS: Chastened by its early experiences of holding power in post-revolution Tunisia, Islamist-inspired party Ennahda has moderated its image and selected lawyer Abdelfattah Mourou as its candidate for next Sunday’s presidential election.

Hesitant at first, Ennahda party only entered its first-ever presidential contest after polling was brought forward following the July death of incumbent President Beji Caid Essebsi.

In the absence of any ally to support and faced with a rushed electoral calendar, Ennahda came forward with its own candidate rather than abstain and risk a poor showing at legislative polls set for Oct. 6.

“Tunisians have grown used to the idea of Ennahda as a normal party, so the situation is more favorable,” according to its head, Rached Ghannouchi, who was exiled during longtime autocrat Zine El-Abidine‘s rule, when Ennahda was banned.

Ghannouchi has been a major force in Tunisia’s democratization process since the 2011 revolution that ousted Ben Ali, and is running for office himself for the first time in next month’s parliamentary vote.

Whereas the last legislative elections, in 2014, were fought along pro- and anti-Islamist lines, economic and social factors are the key issues in the next polls.

HIGHLIGHT

In the absence of any ally to support and faced with a rushed electoral calendar, Ennahda came forward with its own candidate rather than abstain and risk a poor showing at legislative polls set for Oct. 6.

“This divide between Islamists and supporters of secularism is no longer … credible,” said political scientist Hamza Meddeb, pointing out that all of Tunisia’s main political parties have governed in coalition with Ennahda over the past five years. But Ennahda carries the scars of its first taste of political power after the party in late 2011 won the first legislative polls after Ben Ali’s fall.

Weighed down by crises and faced with a strong opposition, Ennahda had to make way for a Cabinet of technocrats in early 2014.

Since 2016, Ennahda has been branding itself as a “civil” movement that distinguishes between politics and religion, and it now describes itself as a “Muslim democratic” party.

Opinions are divided on whether its candidate will emerge as one of the two candidates who go forward to a second round of presidential polling. But Mourou, who has been interim speaker of Parliament since July, is widely seen as a moderate and far less divisive figure than Ghannouchi.

“He’s the least Islamist of the Islamists, he can attract voters who are not close to the party,” according to Meddeb.

A lawyer in his 70s who wears traditional costume while advocating more openness in the party, Mourou is not typical of Ennahda.

Although it was beaten in 2014 by Essebsi’s secular Nidaa Tounes party, Ennahda took part in a coalition. In effect, it has never been fully left out of power in the last eight years of transition to democracy.

In the presidential contest, voters will for the first time have to decide whether they can entrust Ennahda with the office of head of state, responsible for the North African nation’s defense.

Trust on social issues is also a key factor.

As for Ghannouchi, he has his sights set on the post of Parliament speaker after the October vote and wants Ennahda to play a key role in forming Tunisia’s next government, political analysts say.

Editorialist Ziyed Krichen sees the party keeping up its “strategy of alliances so as not to be center stage.”

But “if Mourou gets a low score, it risks being swept away in the legislative polls,” he said.

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Middle East News

Britain says war with Iran would strengthen militants

BRUSSELS: The EU’s diplomatic chief on Tuesday condemned Turkish “interference” in Libya after Ankara sent troops to support the UN-backed Tripoli government, warning this complicates the crisis in the oil-rich state.After emergency talks on the situation with the foreign ministers of France, Britain, Germany and Italy, Josep Borrell said the Turkish intervention was “something that we…

Britain says war with Iran would strengthen militants

BRUSSELS: The EU’s diplomatic chief on Tuesday condemned Turkish “interference” in Libya after Ankara sent troops to support the UN-backed Tripoli government, warning this complicates the crisis in the oil-rich state.After emergency talks on the situation with the foreign ministers of France, Britain, Germany and Italy, Josep Borrell said the Turkish intervention was “something that we reject and which increases our worries about the situation in Libya”.

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US warns ships in Middle East waterways of possible Iran action

LONDON: Britain on Tuesday called for calm after the United States killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani and said a war with Iran would only benefit Islamist militants across the Middle East.“What we’re looking to do is to de-escalate the tensions with Iran and make sure in relation to Iraq that we don’t lose the…

US warns ships in Middle East waterways of possible Iran action

LONDON: Britain on Tuesday called for calm after the United States killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani and said a war with Iran would only benefit Islamist militants across the Middle East.“What we’re looking to do is to de-escalate the tensions with Iran and make sure in relation to Iraq that we don’t lose the hard-won gains that we secured against Daesh,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Tuesday said the US killing of Soleimani was state terrorism, and that Iran would ‘respond proportionately.’“We are concerned that if we see a full-blown war it would be very damaging and actually the terrorists, in particular Daesh, would be the only winners,” the British foreign secretary said.“We’re working with our US partners, our EU partners, that is why I’m travelling out to Brussels today, to make sure we send a very clear and consistent message on the need for de-escalation and to find a diplomatic route though.”

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Arab League reaffirms rejection of foreign interference, calls for Libya solution

CAIRO: Egypt’s recent decision to transport ancient Pharaonic artifacts to a traffic circle in the congested heart of Cairo has fueled fresh controversy over the government’s handling of its archaeological heritage.Cairo has some of the worst air pollution in the world, according to recent studies. Archaeologists and heritage experts fear vehicle exhaust will damage the…

Arab League reaffirms rejection of foreign interference, calls for Libya solution

CAIRO: Egypt’s recent decision to transport ancient Pharaonic artifacts to a traffic circle in the congested heart of Cairo has fueled fresh controversy over the government’s handling of its archaeological heritage.Cairo has some of the worst air pollution in the world, according to recent studies. Archaeologists and heritage experts fear vehicle exhaust will damage the four ram-headed sphinxes and an obelisk, currently en route to their new home in Tahrir Square.Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has weighed in to say that similar obelisks are displayed in Western cities, according to a statement late Monday.But Dr. Monica Hanna, a heritage expert, said Egyptian artifacts in cities like London, Paris and New York are themselves endangered by being outdoors.“The sphinxes are made of sandstone, they are part of the dry environment in Luxor, when they would be moved to Tahrir Square with all the pollution, they will deteriorate as a result of the reactions with the carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide in the air,” Hanna told The Associated Press.She and a member of parliament are part of a lawsuit to block the artifacts’ move, filed recently by a local rights group.Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said the government “will do everything” to protect the artifacts.Tahrir Square was the epicenter of Egypt’s so-called Arab Spring uprising in 2011. The square also contains the Egyptian Museum.The decision to move the artifacts as part of a larger renovation of Tahrir Square was taken without debate in parliament. The controversy only surfaced after archaeologists objected.Since coming to power in 2013, El-Sisi has touted a number of megaprojects aimed at rebuilding and expanding infrastructure. Those include an expansion of the Suez Canal and a new Egyptian museum near the Giza Pyramids.A centerpiece of the new museum is a towering statue of Ramses II. It once stood in a busy square near Cairo’s main railway station, but was removed in the 1990s due to preservation concerns.Waziri, the antiquities chief, said the four sphinxes are not part of the famed avenue of sphinxes in the city of Luxor. They were among several located behind the first edifice of the temple of Karnak.The obelisk was recently moved to Cairo from the San el-Haggar archaeological site in the Nile Delta, the ministry said.But Hanna, the heritage expert, stressed that the obelisks in Western capitals had been moved during the colonial era. “We really had no say in their shipment.”

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