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Tunisian Salvation Front calls on UAE for financial support, say reports

Ridha Belhaj reportedly told a UAE diplomat the Salvation Front was the only force able to challenge the rise of the Islamist-leaning Ennahda Party

Founder of the Salvation Front Ridha Belhaj and former leader in the secular Nidaa Tounes, speaks to Tunisian Islamist Ennahdha party leader, Rached Ghannouchi at the Carthage palace in Tunis, on 20 March 2016 (AFP)

Tunisian political leader Ridha Belhaj called on the UAE to provide financial support for the Salvation Front to help challenge the Islamist-leaning Ennahda party during a meeting at the Emirati embassy in Tunis earlier this year, Arabic media reported on Thursday.

On 12 January, a number of parties in Tunisia, including the Free National Party under the leadership of Salim Riyahi and the Tunisia Project movement under the leadership of Mohsen Marzouk, announced the formation of a new political alliance they called the Salvation Front. Belhaj, who is a former leader in the secular-leaning Nidaa Tounes Party, is among the founders of the Salvation Front.

According to the Arabi21 news website, minutes of the meeting that took place between a senior UAE diplomat and Belhaj showed that the latter requested financial and media support in order to counter the Islamist Ennahda Movement. 

The minutes also reportedly revealed  that the meeting took place during the first week of January upon the request of Belhaj.

Belhaj alleged that the Salvation Front was facing financial difficulties because the parties and members of which it is composed, including the head of the Free National Union party Salim al-Riyahi, had been going through financial crises.

During the meeting, Belhaj reportedly told the UAE diplomat that the life cycle of the Nidaa Tounes Party has come to the end and that it would no longer be possible to save it from successive divisions. 

Nidaa Tounes, which previously held the balance of power in a coalition government ruling Tunisia, has been riven by internal disputes since 2015. Before heading the Salvation Front, Belhaj was a leader in Nidaa Tounes, a secular-leading heterogeneous amalgam of various political groups.

According to the report, Belhaj warned the unidentified UAE diplomat that the only party which remains intact in Tunisia today is the Ennahda Party, which he considered to be the prime political force in the country.

It is most likely that Ennahda will sweep to power through the forthcoming elections if “nothing is done to contain the situation and act in order to bring forth a new political force that is capable of striking a balance with Ennahda in the Tunisian political landscape,” Arabi21 reported Belhaj as saying in the meeting's minutes. 

Belhaj also allegedly noted that the Salvation Front is the only political front that is able to strike this aspired balance with Ennahda. 

"The Front is the only political body in Tunisia that can engage positively with the UAE's regional policies and particularly in Libya,” said Belhaj.