Special Reports

Tunisian leader Al-Ghannoushi visits India

New Delhi: The Tunisian Islamic leader Shaikh Rashid Al-Ghannoushi, leader of the Nahda Party, visited India early April at the invitation of the Indian government. He met senior government leaders and delivered lectures at the Jawaharlal Nehru University and Oberver Research Foundation. The Vice President of India Hamid Ansari hosted him over lunch on 6 April during which the visiting Tunisian leader met a number of leading personalities from various walks of life and explained to them the situation in Tunisia and why the Tunisian revolution and transformation to democracry were not defeated unlike other cases of the Arab Spring. His main contention was that in Tunisia they are careful to take all shades of opinion and avoid the usual democratic rule where a party gaining 51 percent of the votes rules as a dictator.

The Tunisian leader and his delegation also visited Aligarh Muslim University on 8 April where he said while speaking at the polytechnic that the flame of Arab Spring is still burning in Tunisia. "Even though unfortunate events have followed the Arab Spring but Tunisia is showing the world that democracy can be sustained in the Arab World," he said.

Shaikh Rashid said, "My visit to AMU is a dream which has come true. Since my childhood, I have been hearing and reading about AMU and its founder Sir Syed Ahmad Khan."

Talking about the important role of Islamic Tendency Movement in Tunisia (later named as Al-Nahdah Party), he said that the Movement has passed through tough times. "The struggle for ‘reconstruction of the economic life on a more equitable basis, the end of single-party politics and the acceptance of political pluralism and democracy has been long but we have finally achieved it," he said.

"International community and civil society still wonders as to how is the flame of the Arab Spring is still burning in Tunisia while the neighboring countries have unrest. My answer to them is that since our party has an ideology of democracy co-existing with Islam, the flame is still burning," said the Tunisian leader.

Shaikh Ghannoushi added that the Tunisian democracy succeeded because we recognize the rights of citizenship for all communities, equality of gender and an overall pluralistic society.

"Like India, we have a constitution which gives freedom to practice religion, freedom of choices, freedom to work and prosper and freedom of education," said Shaikh Rashid, adding that our polity is based on reconciliation and consensus-building.

He pointed out that in the first free election in the country’s history with a turn out of 51.1 percent of all eligible voters, the Nahda Party party won 37.04 percent of the popular vote and 41 percent of the 217 assembly seats. "Following examples of great Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi, we decided to step down in January 2014 in order to make way for the final drafting of a constitution by a neutral interim government, followed by planned elections based on the new constitution," he said.

Now, Tunisia’s ‘inclusive’ government is seen as a ‘success story’ for democracy after the perceived failure of the Arab Spring in Egypt, said the Tunisian leader.  

He also said that we denounced terrorism and bloodshed and are building an Islamic state based on reconciliation and respect of all people’s rights as citizens. "We have followed the example of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him), when after his conquest of Makkah, he gave equal rights and citizenship even to his enemies," said Shaikh Ghannoushi adding that we have also drawn inspiration from the great South African leader, Nelson Mandela who forgave oppressors in his country after coming to power to avoid bloodshed.

Talking about the recent terrorist attack on a Museum in Tunis, Shaikh Ghannoushi said that the group behind the attack is a tiny minority. "However, even if terrorists are in small numbers, they are a danger to the civilized world and should be dealt with accordingly," he said, adding that we in Tunisia believe that terrorists can never be successful in their designs as "what is wrong will never prevails on what is right."

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 April 2015 on page no. 13

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