An exclusive interview with Rached Ghannouchi, whose Islamist party Ennahda was the big winner in Tunisia’s recent landmark election. He vows to work with secularist rivals, promote women's rights and let far more radical Islamists have their say
TUNIS - Rached Ghannouchi heads the Islamist party, the big winner in Tunisia's first post-dictatorship elections. In the 1980s, Mr. Ghannouchi co-founded the Movement of the Islamic Tendency, which later became Ennahda, or Renaissance. Sentenced to life in prison, he fled to Algiers before heading to London, where he'd been living in exile since 1991. After the fall earlier this year of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali he returned to Tunisia.
His party fell short, however, of an outright majority, meaning Ghannouchi will have to form a coalition with his secularist rivals. Just before his party was officially declared the winner Thursday, he sat down for an exclusive interview with Le Monde. The following are excerpts:
Le Monde: You've said you are aiming for a broad-based coalition, but are there any secular parties you refuse to negotiate with?
Rached Ghannouchi: We are willing to form a coalition with all the parties that were against Ben Ali's regime, no matter what their ideologies are. We can discuss anything. But we refuse to talk to Hachmi Hamdi because he was an ally of the dictatorship. (Hamdi's Popular Petition party came in fourth in Sunday's elections)
Will the Tunis liaison bureau with Israel remain closed?
That's up to the new government. But we are against any normalization of relations with Israel because it is an occupying State that couldn't even reach an agreement with the more moderate Palestinian Liberation Organization, or with Arafat or Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas).
Will you make changes to the personal status laws that protect Tunisian women?
No we won't. But we could strengthen women's rights, regarding salary inequalities for example or setting up child care in the workplace. There's also a lot to do regarding the issue of sexual harassment. We want to take care of that.
How will you deal with your base, which is often said to be more radical? And what about the Salafists?
There's no proof that Ennahda's base is more radical than its leadership. If that were the case, we would have been aware of it and we would have changed our positions. These accusations come from our political rivals, who also accused us baselessly of doublespeak.
Regarding the Salafists, well, they're here. We tried to talk to them and change their vision of Islam, which includes ideas like saying democracy is "haram" (forbidden) or "kafir" (miscreant.) We believe there is no contradiction between Islam and democracy, Islam and modernity, Islam and gender equality. The Salafists are entitled to their own opinion. Even if it's wrong, the state should not intervene unless they turn to violence.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said that French aid would hinge upon the protection of human rights . What do you have to say about that?
We don't need such comments to respect human rights. These issues are at the heart of our values and our religion, and Tunisians don't take conditional aid. Agreements between Ben Ali and the European Union also mentioned respect for human rights, but Europe turned a blind eye. We hope this time they'll be paying close attention.
Read more from Le Monde in French
Photo - Wikipedia