Last night the Middle East Monitor (MEMO) hosted Shaykh Rashid Ghanoushi – the previously exiled leader of Al-Nahda Party in Tunisia – for a roundtable meeting in the Houses of Parliament. Due to his political activities and involvement with the Nahda party, Ghanoushi, along with thousands of his compatriots, had been forced into political exile for over two decades but now, following the incredible public uprising in Tunisia which has inspired a rash of revolutions across the Arab world, Ghanoushi has finally returned to his Tunisian homeland.
Clearly proud of all that his countrymen and women have achieved through their brave public protests which succeeded in toppling the corrupt President Ben Ali dictatorship, he recounted the positive changes that have occurred in Tunis in the last four months alone. “The fear has gone”, he said, people are no longer afraid of the police state, on the contrary the people now consider themselves to be the masters of the state – as it should be; political prisoners have been released from their prisons; there has been an emotional return of many of the exiles who have spent decades unable to visit their homes and families in Tunisia; there has also been a resurgence in the popularity of moderate Islamic groups such as Al-Nahda (which literally means renaissance).
There is however still a long way to go, he cautioned. Many are concerned that despite the changes people associated with the ousted dictator will be appointed and that would just be giving a face-lift to the old regime. What is needed instead is a completely fresh start. While Tunisians are not trying to dismantle their state or carry out a witch hunt as other countries may be doing right now, all Tunisians want is a democratically elected leadership that they can trust and respect. Ghanoushi explained that the Nahda party is one of the most popular political groups in Tunisia. He recounted how tens of thousands of people lined the streets in joy when he and his fellow party representatives recently returned to Tunis after their long exile. In the last 30 years the Nahda party and its members have been in a struggle for their very existence, he said. Having been banned they managed to keep the party and its ethos alive and are now ready to return stronger than ever and more determined to represent their people.
Tunisia is a beautiful country, Ghanoushi told his audience, but under a corrupt leadership in the past few decades it has suffered a great deal. Twenty-five per cent of the country’s resources were controlled by Ben Ali and some of the biggest problems now facing Tunisia are social and economic ones. Over 700,000 graduates are unemployed in Tunisia. However, these are just a few of the many problems that Ghanoushi feels that his party will be able to address. While it would no longer be possible to marginalize the Islamic forces, the Nahda leader acknowledges the Islamists cannot lead Tunisia by themselves.
The elections which were due to take place on 24th July are now set for October by which time Ghanoushi is confident that Al-Nahda Party will be best placed to present themselves to the people as the new representatives of a democratic Tunisian government.