Al-Nahda leader Ghannouchi: Tunisia heading towards ‘Muslim democratic state’

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Leader of Tunisian political party al-Nahda, Rachid al-Ghannouchi. (Photo: AFP)

By: Adam al-Sabiri

Published Monday, September 29, 2014

Political life in Tunisia has often revolved around symbolic personalities. The longtime leader of al-Nahda, Rachid al-Ghannouchi, is currently one of those figures. Speaking to Al-Akhbar, he maintained his movement's right to participate in ruling the country, whose future would be "Muslim and democratic."

Al-Akhbar: The Arab world and Tunisia's neighbors, Libya and Egypt, are witnessing something akin to a woman going into labor, especially in light of the failure of Islamist movements. How do you view the future of al-Nahda?

Rachid al-Ghannouchi:The situation in the Arab world, Egypt and Libya in particular, is actually a struggle between aspirations for change and the wish to return to authoritarian and dictatorial regimes. It is a struggle between moving ahead or regressing. The situation is simply a struggle between the revolution and counter-revolution.

In light of this struggle, which we are very careful to pursue, al-Nahda is working on discussing and studying the situation and events on all levels, in an attempt to avoid a situation similar to countries like Egypt and Libya and to learn from them to find solid ground, which would serve Tunisia and the Tunisians. We are optimistic that the forces of progress, change, and democracy will be victorious.

AA: How do you look at the balance of power in the Arab world and the role of influential regional powers, Iran and Turkey?

RG: The Arab world is moving rapidly, which calls for caution. The diversity of agendas shuffled the cards. In principle, the Turks and Iranians should represent a depth for the Arab world, based on neighborly relations, assistance, and cooperation. They should play a future role in consolidating the above-mentioned principles and steer away from the tendency to hegemonize. If both sides compete over this, the outcomes will be disastrous in the Arab world. We call for the creation of an Islamic world founded on respect, balance, and common and shared interests, not the supremacy of one side over the other.

AA: In light of such developments, what is your position on the international coalition against ISIS and terrorism?

RG: We reject foreign military intervention, regardless of the reason. We believe in respecting the sovereignty of states and peoples. The position of the Tunisian government in this context was clear and respectable, refusing to participate in the international coalition in Iraq and Syria, under the guise of so-called fighting ISIS and terrorism.

AA: How do you see and assess the war on terrorism and ISIS?

RG: Before considering a war on terrorism or ISIS, we should combat what caused these organizations to flourish. The Syrian regime filled Syria with corruption and devoured everything in sight, with gag orders, restrictive measures, and authoritarian dictatorial behavior against its people. Such practices led to the emergence of al-Qaeda groups in Syria. In Iraq, there were unacceptable violations against Sunnis from the successive Iraqi governments. Sunnis in Iraq witnessed all sorts of humiliation, which fed into [sectarian] hatred and prepared the situation for the emergence of ISIS, seen as defending Sunni Islam, which is not true. These issues encouraged the emergence of terrorism and confronting it militarily will complicate the issue. We believe that the military solution will not be useful unless it is preceded by combatting authoritarianism and dictatorship. We should fight the causes of terrorism.

AA: On another note, are there any intentions to host Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Tunisia?

RG: Tunisia is a democratic country, working in the framework of the United Nations and is subject to international law as an independent sovereign country. With the classification of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization in several countries, especially from the Gulf, it became unwanted by the international community. Any decision to host Muslim Brotherhood figures in Tunisia is contingent on what the Tunisian state considers to be suitable in the framework of the international community. However, as a movement, we welcome all Muslim Brotherhood figures who want to live in Tunisia. Tunisians were received warmly throughout the world when they were repressed by Ben Ali's regime. Thus we welcome the presence of Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Tunisia.

AA: As for the situation in Tunisia, did your attempt at governance reach the desired level, knowing that you ultimately withdrew?

RG: Not at all. Our experience in ruling occurred at a very delicate moment that Tunisia had been witnessing. We inherited a heavy burden from the previous regime, on one hand, and a people thirsty for freedom, development, and a higher standard of living, who face difficulties in confronting obstacles, on the other. Thus, al-Nahda's participation in power was difficult. But this does not mean that the process was negative, considering we gave all what we could and should have on various levels. There is another thing, which is that participating in power is our right.

AA: So how do you explain withdrawing from the government?

RG: Al-Nahda did not withdraw, it made a concession for the sake of Tunisia. We gave priority to the public over the private sphere, the patriotic over the party line, and made the triumph of the democratic option our priority. Our withdrawal was a sacrifice to save the transitional process. We succeeded in serving the transitional process and achieving national unity. Our withdrawal was also a strong message for other political factions that we want a stable political partnership and not the adulterated consensus over power or an aggressive political fight that tears apart the unity of Tunisians. Thus, we do not regret leaving the government.

AA: Some believe that al-Nahda is neglecting to name a presidential candidate as a [political] maneuver. What is the reality of the situation?

RG: The movement's reaction of fielding a candidate to the presidential elections is not a [political] maneuver, but to safeguard the country's interests and the balance of power. This could be beneficial to Tunisia, since the logic of the majority will not be enough. The solution is a consensus. We are convinced that Tunisia needs another transitional phase, since the democratic experiment is still nascent and needs more time.

AA: Who is leading al-Nahda towards the Carthage Palace?

RG: Actually, we do not have a particular name at the time being, especially since the electoral authority has not announced the names whose nominations were accepted, but we'll deal with that later. After the names are released, we could chose those that would serve Tunisia and Tunisians, as we are seeking to serve the country and the people and to prevent the return of authoritarianism or heading towards chaos. We do not want the hegemony to return and we are seeking to put an end to one party rule and encouraging pluralism and partnerships.

AA: How do you see the future of Tunisia?

RG: Tunisia's future is heading towards a Muslim democratic state. We are keen to safeguard a quiet and smooth democratic transition, especially since Tunisians are moderate and reject extremism.

AA: Despite your optimism, neighboring Libya’s security situation is deteriorating. How does that impact Tunisia?

RG: The security situation in Tunisia is highly susceptible to the situation in Libya and vice versa. In this context, we are working to achieve a democratic model, which could persuade and encourage our Libyan neighbors to adopt it, and shift away from dealing with each other with bullets to dealing with peace, dialogue, and development.

AA: Dialogue sessions will be held in Algeria and you are involved in the efforts. What do you think the fate of the Algerian dialogue will be?

RG:Yes. We have extensive contacts with all parties of the Libyan conflict and are seeking to bring together their points of view. Reconciliation meetings between the Libyan adversaries could be announced soon. In this context, I had visited Algeria and met President [Abdelaziz] Bouteflika and several officials to reach a solution to the Libyan crisis through dialogue sessions in Algeria. I felt the Algerians were interested in having a successful dialogue and achieving reconciliation between the different Libyan factions. Thus, we support Algeria's efforts and hope its experience will be useful for our Libyan brothers to reach national consensus.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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