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Exiled Tunisian Islamist leader vows to return - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Sheikh Rached Ghannouchi, exiled leader of the Tunisian opposition Islamic Ennahda Party who is based in London, has stated that the party’s leaders “are not participating in the negotiations to form the coalition or national unity government because we were not invited to participate in it in the first place.” After expressing his belief that the Islamists in Tunisia were being deliberately excluded, he said: “If we are invited in future to participate in the government, then we will look into the matter. Our role should be for democratic change and not the entrenchment of what prevailed during the deposed president’s rule.”

Speaking in a telephone interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, the exiled leader said there would not be an Islamic candidate from Ennahda in the upcoming presidential election and stressed that “he is confident that the Islamic movement is not likely to rule in Tunisia.” He pointed out that the time has come for return to the homeland said: “I am preparing for my return.” In reply to a question about his anticipated return, he merely said: “Soon.”

The leader of the Islamic party, which was outlawed under Ben Ali, went on to say: “The political system is fragmented and agreement on a common basis, a plan for a participating society might take some time.” There is no blood relationship between Rached Ghannouchi and Prime Minister-designate Mohammed Ghannouchi. Referring to the prime minister’s remarks in which he said there was no objection to the return of Tunisians in exile, Rached said it was Ben Ali’s dictatorship which forced them to go into exile and this justification does not exist anymore.

He talked about agreement inside Ennahda movement to return though no contacts have been made yet with the temporary authority in Tunisia. He asserted that the jail sentences issued against him and other leaders were invalid because they were based on a falsehood. He explained: “We are agreed on a society established on democratic bases that include respect for human rights, freedom of belief, and listening to the demands of our people who have suffered terribly during the rule of deposed President Ben Ali.”

Pointing out that he is living in exile, he said the time is now right to return with the Ennahda movement’s leaders as represented by its leader Rached. He said: “The natural situation is to have a coalition government in which representatives of the people are in it.” But he warned that failure to represent all the Tunisian components in this government would mean a return to one-party rule. After expressing his belief that Ben-Ali’s men are still controlling the state’s key posts, he said “Ennahda” might participate in a coalition government if it would lead to real democracy and pluralism and underlined “the need for a constitutional reform that brings forth democratic policies and guarantees respect for human rights and also the honesty of the judiciary and freedom of the press.”

Ali Ben Arfah, an Ennahda leader who has lived in London for more than 30 years had asserted in statements to Asharq Al-Awsat” that deposed President Ben Ali’s men were still in control of the state’s key posts and referred to the deliberate exclusion of the Islamists from the political stage in Tunisia.