Arab media is reporting that the Tunisian judiciary has opened an investigation into the Ennahda party, the Tunisian arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, after it became known that the party tasked a US public relations firm to internationally campaign in its favor. According to the Alarabiya article:
August 7, 2021 The lobbying attempt in the US is to improve the movement’s image and manipulate public opinion to form a pressure group against President Kais Saied after his recent decisions. The spokesperson for the Court of First Instance, Mohsen El-Dali, said in a statement to the Tunis African News Agency on Friday that the Public Prosecution is in the process of collecting data regarding a contract between an international agency for communication and public relations and the Ennahda party.
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According to the article, the controversy was sparked by a July 2021 $30,000 contract between Ennahda and Burson Cohen & Wolfe (BCW). a US-based communications agency. Annexes in the contract also showed BCW planned to target members of US Congress and their staffers as well as media personalities on behalf of Ennahda.
Political commentators have questioned whether a recent opinion piece in the New York Times authored by Ennahda leader and former Tunisian parliament speaker Rachid Ghannouchi was facilitated by BCW. In the piece, Ghannouchi accused Tunisian president Kais Saied of carrying out “an attempted coup against the Constitution.” On July 25, Kais Saied dismissed the country’s government and suspended parliament activity using temporary emergency powers and citing public dissatisfaction with the government’s recent policies. Shortly after, Tunisian troops were deployed to surround the parliament in Tunis, where they blocked Ghannouchi from entering the building.
Under Tunisian law, political parties are prohibited from hiring foreign PR agencies which also forbids politicians from receiving funds from abroad. Initially, Ennahda denied that any contract with BCW had been signed or that funds had been transferred to another country. Yet on 3 August 2021, just days after the scandal broke, a registration statement was filed with the US Department of Justice pursuant to the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which named the “Ennadha Party Diaspora Group,” listing an address in central London as a foreign principal working together with BCW.
In mid-July, the Tunisian judiciary opened an investigation into Ennahda and several other parties on suspicion of receiving funds from abroad during the 2019 election campaign. In September 2014, Ennahda hired Burson-Marsteller, one of the largest US public relations companies at the time, to carry out public relations activities for the movement and improve its foreign image.
The Ennhada Party is headed by Ghannouchi (many spelling variations) who can best be described as an independent Islamist power center and who is strongly tied to the Global Muslim Brotherhood. In May 2021, the Global Influence Operations Report (GIOR) reported that Radwan Masmoudi, the founder and President of the Washington, DC-based Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID), announced he had left the group to officially join the political office of Ennahda. From its inception, CSID has argued that the US government should support Islamist movements in foreign countries, has taken positions largely consistent with those of the Global Muslim Brotherhood, and has enjoyed frequent and deep ties with other US Muslim Brotherhood groups.