Tunisia's democracy is strong, Ghannouchi tells The New Arab

Tunisia's democracy is strong, Ghannouchi tells The New Arab
In-depth: In an exclusive interview, the head of Tunisia's Islamist movement, Ennahdha, says Tunisia's state is strong enough to weather the storm of grave domestic, regional and global challenges.
4 min read
17 March, 2016
Tunisia's Ennahdha Islamist Party Leader Rached Ghannouchi looks on during a handover ceremony [AFP]
In an exclusive interview with The New Arab, Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of Ennahdha, the Tunisian Islamist movement, spoke out over the recent clashes in Ben Gardane in which scores of IS-affiliated militants were killed alongside Tunisian troops and civilians.

Ghannouchi said the way Tunisians dealt with the violence was exemplary, in that it defeated - for now - what he termed the Kharijities of our times - comparing the Islamic State group with an ancient rogue faction that terrorised the Muslim world.

In addition to domestic affairs, Ghannouchi also tackled developments in Libya and the reports of an international military intervention there.

What are the most important lessons learned from events in Ben Gardane? It was a turning point, he said, adding that the events had "proven the resilience of Tunisia and her security services and institutions".

"Democracies are not an easy prey for IS, because democracy makes citizens feel that they belong to the state and thus they are willing to defend it and support their army and police," Ghannouchi said.

The Ennahdha leader said this had come as a shock to IS, which thought it could obtain a popular base in Tunisia similar to that found in Iraq and Syria because of sectarian repression there.
All Libya's neighbouring countries and all Tunisian political parties are opposed to international intervention there


The threat to Tunisia from Libya is, according to Ghannouchi, rooted in the potential for the radicalisation of Tunisians, a problem exacerbated by the absence of the state in neighbouring Libya which means Tunisians can travel, train, arm and plot attacks while across the border.

Libya also poses a threat from infiltration by "terrorist elements" that did not originate in Tunisia. 

"All Libya's neighbouring countries and all Tunisian political parties are opposed [to international intervention in Libya]. We have seen what foreign intervention has done in other countries in the region.

"Terrorism and dictatorship were not eliminated, but only spread, as societies and states descended into endless civil and sectarian wars."

Yet Ghannouchi does not believe a ground intervention is on the cards in Libya.

"There is instead a real international desire for the state in Libya to stand on its feet and do its part to prevent IS from taking hold and launching themselves into Tunisia or the West," he said.

The Islamist leader, whose compromise deal with his opponents earned him and others in the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet the Nobel Peace Prize, lamented the failure of Libya's factions to compromise and come together to save the country.

It is unislamic and unfair to punish everyone who worked with the Gaddafi regime

'The Libyan ship is big enough'

Ghannouchi expressed support for Fayez al-Sarraj's national unity government in Libya, saying it provided a solution. He called on Libyans to embrace it.

The New Arab
asked Ghannouchi whether he had contacts with former leaders from the Gaddafi regime.

"Yes, we have spoken to some of them, like Ahmed Gaddaf al-Dam, Abdul-Rahman Shalgam and Ahmed Jibril... we have always urged our Libyan brethren to avoid any exclusionary tendencies because the Libyan ship has room for everyone," he said.

"We are pushing for forgiveness and reconciliation, away from collective punishment and vengence. It is un-Islamic and unfair to punish everyone who worked with the Gaddafi regime," he added.

Concluding, Ghannouchi stressed the Tunisian state was strong and could weather storms, but admitted that recent protests had legitimate demands, saying the government had been slow to fulfill them.

"Change cannot happen overnight. But we need to be objective; let us compare the situation in Tunisia with other countries that underwent similar revolutions," he said.

"Tunisians won the Nobel Prize and this was not flattery. The fight was across the table with words and not on the battlefield, and we have made achievements at the level of the constitution and the freedom of the media despite economic difficulties. This is to be expected, because there is a global economic crisis even in Europe."

For read the full interview in Arabic, click here.