Tunisia’s key opposition leader, Rashid Al-Ghannushi, has said the Tunisian people consider the Turkish experience in democracy a model and an example for Tunisia’s post-revolution period.
Al-Ghannushi, the head of Tunisia’s strongest opposition movement Ennahda, which had been banned for two decades, told Today’s Zaman in an interview that the time during which the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has ruled Turkey has become a period of reconciliation between Islam and democracy. “This is what we see as the model for ourselves,” he said on Monday. Ennahda, which likens its ideology to that of Turkey’s ruling AK Party, was the strongest opposition force in Tunisia before a crackdown that forced Al-Ghannushi out of the country.
However, Ennahda did not appear to be a leading force in the wave of protests that toppled former President Zine El Abdine Ben Ali. It has yet to be seen whether Al-Ghannushi’s return can galvanize the party. Al-Ghannushi has lived in London since he was exiled in 1989 by Ben Ali, who was toppled on Jan. 14 by popular protests that have sent political tremors across the Arab world. He returned to Tunisia after Ben Ali’s departure.
The Tunisian opposition leader said his party is also a conservative democratic one just like the AK Party and that there is much connection and shared points between the Turkish experience and that of Tunisia, without elaborating further. “We are very well aware of Turkey’s democracy experience, and we want to benefit from it,” Al-Ghannushi said.
A popular uprising in the North African state last month ended Ben Ali’s 23 years of rule, sending shockwaves through the Arab world and inspiring a similar revolt in Egypt. Relatively stable, with a vibrant economy and ruled by a conservative and pragmatic government led by the most popular figure across the Arab world, Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, Turkey has often been cited as a model Muslim democracy and a linchpin of Western influence in the region.
Al-Ghannushi also praised Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu, who visited Tunisia on Monday as the rotating chairman of the Council of Europe, and said Turkey is holding consultations with everyone in the country and that Turkey always stresses the will of the Tunisian people. “We attach importance to this,” the opposition leader said.
Davuto?lu visited Tunisia with Council of Europe Secretary-General Thorbjorn Jagland to help Tunisia make a smooth and peaceful transition to democratic rule, saying Tunisia’s peaceful transformation is important because it could set an example for other countries in the region. Speaking about the pre-election period, Al-Ghannushi said they need at least six months for the necessary legal changes for competitive elections, adding that most exiled opposition leaders need time to get reorganized.
The experienced politician also said he does not think a single party will come to power following the elections and stressed the need for a coalition government in the country. Ennahda officials have said the party will take part in parliamentary elections, and analysts say it could emerge as a major political force in the vote. However, Ennahda will not nominate a presidential candidate, and Al-Ghannushi, 69, has said he does not want to run for any public office.
Noting that the best governing structure for Tunisia would be a democracy with wide participation, Al-Ghannushi said dictatorship in the Arab country has already become history and will never make a return. Warning that the former regime has some strength and that elements of the former dictatorship are still fighting and trying for a comeback, Al-Ghannushi still ruled out the possibility that they could prevail.
Al-Ghannushi vehemently rejected criticism that his party is a radical Islamist party and dismissed claims to that effect in the Western media as stemming from lack of insight into his movement. The Al-Ghannushi movement, founded in 1981, is seen as moderate by experts.
The opposition leader heavily criticized the international community for remaining unengaged during the protests in Tunisia and said major powers stood by Tunisia’s ousted leader to the last minute. “Major powers, as always, benefit from dictators but keep their hands off when they get toppled,” Al-Ghannushi said.