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Reassurance from Tunisia's Islamist party

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Reassurance from Tunisia's Islamist party


The man claiming unprecedented political legitimacy in Tunisia’s election is said to embrace humanist Islam, and not any extremist rejection of modern, Western, culture.

Ennahda party leader Rachid Ghanouchi, who has studied in universities in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Syria and at France’s Sorbonne, and has spent years in prison and in exile, must now prove he is a pluralist if he is to avoid alienating secularist voters.

He promised to pursue pluralism when President Ben Ali was driven out and Ghanouchi returned from exile. He had fled the repression in Tunisia which saw many militant opponents of the regime flung into prison. On his return, following the Arab Spring, he did not advocate a simplistic religious state order.

He praised the Tunisian people for having rebelled. He urged them to continue what he called “this blessed revolution”, to preserve it and to pursue equality, democracy and justice.

Ghanouchi has presented himself as a defender of individual freedom, and workers and women’s rights

(Tunisia claims the most advanced status for women in the whole Arab world), and he backed a republic with parliamentary checks and balances.

Ennahda’s programme says moderate Islam is a fundamental reference. It likens itself to the AK party in power in Turkey.

Ghanouchi said: “Ennahda’s ideology is big enough to encompass women — covered up or not — as well as religious and non-religious people. We are in a position to negotiate with parties of the left and the right. Perhaps this is why — I think — the Ennahda movement is popular.”

But critics say that Tunisia’s Islamists cloak themselves in ambiguities. One of the things they say they are uncomfortable with is the financing of Ennahda’s electoral campaign.

A protester demanded to know: “Why has party funding not been looked into? What do you say to that Prime Minister Sebsi? And you, Ghanouchi? Why is it allowed for parties like Ennahda to get funding from abroad, when no party or association is allowed to receive money from individuals, private companies or foreign parties without legal permission?”

Ennahda says it is financially supported by its Tunisian members, but this is not a rich population, and the party’s opponents allege — though they have not offered proof — that it enjoys funding from sources in Gulf states.

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