Outlawed Islamist Leader Returns to Tunisia

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), January 31, 2011 | Go to article overview

Outlawed Islamist Leader Returns to Tunisia


Byline: Bouazza Ben Bouazza and Jeffrey Schaeffer Associated Press

TUNIS, Tunisia -- The leader of a long-outlawed Tunisian Islamist party returned home Sunday after two decades in exile, telling The Associated Press in his first interview on arrival his views are moderate and his Westward-looking country has nothing to fear.

Rachid Ghanouchi and about 70 other exiled members of Ennahdha, or Renaissance, flew home from Britain two weeks after autocratic President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was forced from power by violent protests. At the airport, thousands of people welcomed him, cheering, shouting "God is great!" and drowning out his attempt to address the crowd with a megaphone.

Ghanouchi rejected any comparison to more radical figures, including the hard line father of the Iranian Revolution.

"Some Western media portray me like (Ayatollah Ruhollah) Khomeini, but that's not me," Rachid Ghanouchi said.

During 23 years in power, Tunisia's ousted president cracked down on opponents, including proponents of political Islam, jailing them and sending many into exile. As Tunisians protests over corruption and repression, Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14.

With Ben Ali gone, Ennahdha has moved quickly to carve out a place in the political scene, taking part in demonstrations and meeting with the prime minister.

Some Tunisians fear that a revival of Islam could hurt their hard-won gains and quality of life, or inspire an extremist movement like the al-Qaida-linked network that has waged an insurgency in neighboring Algeria. …

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