Event ReportsPublished on Jul 04, 2015
One of Tunisia's leading politicians, Sheikh Rashid al-Ghannouchi, says the Middle East is not in crisis, but rather at a "crossroads." The Middle East can indeed achieve stability and peace through a process of democratic reconciliation and consensus. But the road will be long and involve building institutions, healing old wounds and forging compromises.
Democracy will prevail in the Arab World, says Tunisian leader

Tunisia’s leading politician, Sheikh Rashid al-Ghannouchi, president of the Ennhada Party, the second largest party in the legislative assembly, has rejected arguments that Islam and democracy are contradictory in nature.

Making a presentation on ’The Tunisian Transition to Democracy’ at Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi on April 7, Sheikh Rashid al-Ghannouchi said ."There is no Arab exception to democracy, nor is there any inherent contradiction between democracy and Islam".

He described the successful political transition and democracy in Tunisia as the last shining candle of the Arab Spring.

Tunisia has succeeded in acquiring a modern constitution that stipulates freedom of conscience, rights to women and minorities. He said this is the fruit of a joint work between the Islamist and secularist parties in the country.

Tunisia has also succeeded in overcoming the political crisis, thanks to the national dialogue which culminated in a consensus to hold the second elections in Tunisia after the fall of the dictatorship regime of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Ali ruled the country for more than 20 years.

Ghannouchi mentioned a series of factors contributing to the successful political transition in Tunisia. One of the most important reasons behind the success of the Tunisian revolution is the homogeneity of the population and the commitment of the political parties to the national constituent assembly. Moreover, the commitment to establish a political system along with the Islamist as well as secular parties in the country played a significant role in the success of Tunisian democracy.

He pointed out that his party, Ennhada, remained peaceful and promoted coexistence even while struggling against the dictatorship regime in the country. According to him, it was the first party to announce that it is a civic party and not an Islamist party.

Ghannouchi said Ennhada even conceded key ministries, in the interest of bringing stability to the country. Ennhada also opposed the exclusion of the members of the dissolved ruling party of the former Ben Ali regime. It was because of this exclusionary approach towards members of the former party in Libya and Syria that led to chaos in these nations.

He said Ennhada wanted to leave it to Tunisians to make their decisions through elections. The nature of the Tunisian military institution played an important role in protecting the democracy in the country.

Ghannouchi, however, emphasised that the successful story of the political transition in Tunisia is not merely a coincidence. Instead, it is the fruit of a great endeavour by the national parties, worker unions, chambers of commerce and civil societies, and the dialogues between the ruling party and the opposition. He said the virus of extremism has not left Tunisia untouched. He said that the Tunisian government is engaged successfully in the war against the extremist organisation Ansar al-Sharia, and is trying to dismantle its cells in the country. Meanwhile, the attack on the Bardo museum in the capital Tunis by members of the Islamic State (IS) is the latest example of activity by extremist groups.

Speaking about the IS, Ghannouchi said the war against it is not a war on Islam. One should not get confused: "Confusing Islam and extremis will only benefit the extremist groups," he pointed out.

He also spoke on the political situation in region. He said that the Middle East is not in crisis but rather at a "crossroads." The Middle East can indeed achieve stability and peace through a process of democratic reconciliation and consensus. But the road will be long and involve the challenging work of building institutions, healing old wounds and forging compromise around shared values. The path that Tunisia has taken can guide other countries in the region. A few years ago, the people were collecting in squares and marching on streets for their rights and freedom. Now, there is a feeling in the Arab world that sooner or later, democracy will prevail.

Speaking on the failure of regime change in other countries in the Arab world following the Arab Spring, particularly in Egypt, Ghannouchi said the political parties left the power in the hands of the Islamist party, which tried to make a radical change in the country, instead of building stability and coexistence among the various stakeholders. This led to the failure of the government.

Ghannouchi concluded his talk by appreciating Indian Prime Minister Modi’s speech in the United Nations where he commended the Tunisian democracy. Ghannouchi said, "Our democracy is very young. So it is a nice experience to learn from one of the biggest democratic countries like India."

Since Tunisia is facing a fragile economic situation, he appealed to friendly nations like India to offer the necessary financial support to its current coalition government in the country.

(This report is prepared by Sikandar Azam, Research Assistant, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)
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