Tunisia’s Islamist Leader, Home After 21 Years in Exile

In an interview with La Stampa, Rachid Ghannouchi insists that he favors a lasting democracy and women playing a political role in Tunisia's future.


TUNIS - Until last month, Rachid Ghannouchi, the founder and leader of the Islamist al-Nahda Party -- the Tunisian equivalent of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood -- was just one of thousands of Tunisian immigrants living in London. Now, two weeks after president Zine El Abidine Bel Ali fled the country, Ghannouchi has returned to his homeland after two decades in exile.

An estimated 1,000 Tunisians welcomed the Islamist leader when he arrived at the airport last week, and his return is the topic of conversation across the country. Some worship him, others blame him for perpetrating terror attacks in the 1980s. He sat down with La Stampa in the family home in the El Menzah 6 neighborhood in northern Tunis.

Rashid Ghannouchi, what kind of Tunisia have you found, after 21 years in exile? I have found a happy people. A people proud of having chased away the dictator. A people experiencing freedom for the first time.

Are you happy about how your were received by your countrymen when you returned? Someone compared it to Ayatollah Khomeini's return to Tehran in 1979. But actually, there was not the same kind of huge crowd to welcome you as there was for Khomeini, true? I am not Khomeini. I am a Sunni, not a Shiite. Tunisia is much smaller than Iran. I have no ambition to become president, a minister, or a member of Parliament. Having said that, I am happy to have been welcomed by (so many) Tunisians. There were many young people. There were even several young women who did not wear the veil.

Al-Nahda has been a banned party for more than two decades. Now it is back and getting ready for the elections. Will you run? I am the party's president. Three days ago we applied to the Ministry of the Interior to be officially registered.

Tell us something about your Party's agenda. Al-Nahda recognizes the multi-party system, freedom of speech, and democratic elections.

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood forbids women and Coptic Christians from becoming president of the party. Does al-Nahda follow similar guidelines? We do not agree on everything. For al-Nahda, a woman or a Copt can become president. The only condition is to win the election.

How do you envision a new, democratic Tunisia? Many of your fellow countrymen fear that al-Nahda will undermine the country's secular principles. Does your party want to see a Tunisia rooted in Islamic principles? Tunisia is not a secular country. Article One of the Constitution says that Tunisia is an Islamic country. There is no need to establish it, because it is already one.

Unofficial polls estimate that between eight and ten percent of the population supports you. Do you think those numbers are accurate? Your Facebook page reached 55,000 members in just a few days. Forecasting the electoral weight of a party that has never taken part in elections is impossible. It may garner 10%, 20%, or 30% of the votes.

What is your relationship with Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood? We are in touch with groups and movements that follow a modern and political Islam, such as the Moroccan Justice and Development Party and the Turkish AKP (ruling party). We are very close to the Turks.

What Muslim country do you see as the best model for Tunisia--Turkey, Iran, or Indonesia? Turkey, of course. But also democratic Islamic countries, such as Indonesia and Malaysia.

What is your response to people who do not trust your democratic pledges. who fear that al-Nahda will radicalize Tunisia? It is necessary to avoid Islamophobia. The West must appreciate the differences that exist between the various Islamic movements. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Osama Bin Laden are both Muslims, but they are not the same thing. We feel closer to the former, than to the latter. Thinking that everyone is the same is dangerous. And it misses the real point, which is that political Islam today is the main political trend in Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria--everywhere. Be assured that there is no contradiction between Islam, democracy, and modernity.

What country will be next to follow in Tunisia's footsteps? Egypt will win in the end. Like in Tunisia, there the struggle has been driven by the people, not political parties. Then it will be Yemen. Then, maybe, Algeria.

Do you think that the Egyptian crisis will endanger peace with Israel? Not necessarily. Egypt's relationship with Israel may shift. But, I do not necessarily forecast a war.

There are people in Tunisia who blame you for the terrorist attacks that occurred in the 1980s. Was this a factor in your decision not to run for elected office? This is just propaganda from the old regime. Al-Nahda is peaceful. I will not run because there is a new generation in our movement that can do it. My goals are studying and teaching Islam with the International Union of Muslim Scholars.

What do you think about the transition government? It is illegitimate. It has been created without consulting with all groups.

How do you envision Tunisia two years from now? It will be a democratic and Islamic country.

Which means what? Women will be in power, a Copt may be president, and there will be freedom of speech.

So, what will be the difference between Tunisia and the UK, where you lived most recently? Islam's values come from sacred texts. Still, every law has to be approved by the parliament.

Read the original article in Italian

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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