x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Tunisia's ruling Ennahda party turns its sights on strikers and critics

Ennahda leader criticises 'hostile' media and calls for strikes that he claims threaten the country's unity.

TUNIS // Tunisia's ruling Ennahda party yesterday bitterly criticised the language of hostile media and the strike calls that it said threatened the country's unity.

"The extreme heat has been accompanied by tensions that threaten the unity of the country," Ennahda's leader Rached Ghannouchi said in a statement, referring to a heatwave that has swept across Tunisia.

His party has been accused by opposition groups of anti-democratic behaviour.

"At the level of the media, the political parties and currents have begun stirring things up against each other using a language that would suggest we are at war," he added.

He also denounced the growing number of "calls for regional and sectoral strikes," after the General Workers' Union (UGTT) urged medical employees to stage a nationwide walkout today.

The powerful union has criticised the dispersal of a sit-in last month in the city of Sfax, 300 kilometres south of the capital Tunis, and the detention of four trade unionists.

Mr Ghannouchi also dismissed the importance some media and opposition groups attached to a proposed article in the new constitution which refers to the "complementarity" of women to men, rather than their equality.

"Some MPs [in the National Constituent Assembly] have seen in this phrase some sort of retreat on fundamental principles like equality, on which there is a consensus between Ennahda and its main coalition partners," the Congress for the Republic and Ettakatol, both centre-left parties, he said.

The article, which was adopted by an NCA commission last week but must be ratified at a plenary session of the transitional parliament, has caused outcry among certain rights groups, including Amnesty International.

Ennahda has been heavily criticised by some civil society and opposition groups for seeking to curtail freedom of expression, most recently with a draft law to criminalise offences against "sacred values" that could carry a jail term of up to four years.