de Bellaigue on Tunisia: room for compromise

Tunisia: ‘Did We Make the Revolution For This?’ by Christopher de Bellaigue | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books

Amusing anecdote on Rachid Ghannouchi:

Even now, after the bruising experience of holding power, the principles championed by Ennahda remain the likeliest blueprint for the country’s future. And this brings us back to the movement’s founder, Ghannouchi himself. Depending on your perspective, his moderate, incremental Islamism can seem virtuous or sinister; equally, it can be read as a pragmatic reaction to events, an acknowledgement of the impossibility of attaining every goal.

I had found myself sitting near him on my flight from London to Tunis (he had been picking up a prize from the British think tank Chatham House) and, speaking the English he had learned over long years in exile in Britain, he told me that he feared the initial spirit of solidarity that the revolution had engendered seemed to be seeping away. He was dispirited by the mauling the government had received at the hands a newly empowered (and mainly secular) media, and the unrealistic expectations of the people. But his vision, of a variegated world with room for competing visions, seemed intact. “There is more than one interpretation in Islam,” he said—a view that the Salafists hate.

He had, I discovered, been urging pragmatism on the Tunis Air flight attendants. Behind a curtain on the drinks trolley, he told me, were hidden different sorts of alcoholic beverage. You only needed to ask, and you would be served. “The flight attendants are unhappy,” Ghannouchi went on.

“They tell me they are good Muslims—they pray and fast and so on—and yet here they are: obliged to serve alcohol. And I say to them that this is the way things are. We live in a society where a lot of people drink alcohol. And so, we must accept the logic of this reality.”

Ghannouchi vs Fisk

Head of Islamist Ennahdha Party to File Suit Against “The Independent”

Sana Ajmi in Tunisialive:

Rached Ghannouchi, leader of Tunisia’s moderate Islamist Ennahdha party, stated yesterday that he intends to sue the British newspaper The Independent for publishing false information about his party.

In his article entitled, “We believe that the USA is the major player against Syria and the rest are its instruments,” Robert Fisk quoted Walid Muallem, foreign minister to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as saying that the Emir of Qatar, Hamad ben Khalifa Al Thani, issued orders to pay Ennahdha $150 million to help Ghannouchi’s party in the elections.

Ghannouchi denied the news during a press conference held yesterday and announced that he plans to sue The Independent for publishing inaccurate information.

“Robert Fisk is a respectable man, but in his article he published false news. These are serious accusations, and we are going to sue the newspaper for publishing that,” said the Ennahdha leader.

One thing Ghannouchi learned in his long years of London exile, apparently, is that the UK is a good place to get litigious. Even if, as in this case, it was not Fisk saying he received money from Qatar (something many Tunisians seem to believe) but Muallem saying it. Can you really sue a paper because an official quoted gave an maliciously inaccurate statement? 

Tunisia's Ghannouchi at WINEP

 From a transcript [PDF] of WINEP's rountable with Tunisia's Rachid Ghannouchi — the commentary says much:

Q: You said that a majority of Palestinians accept the idea of a two-state solution with Israel. What about you and your party? Do you accept that concept?

A: Tunisia will never try to take the place of either of the two Palestinian organizations in deciding about these issues.

[Comment: Ghannouchi not only equates Hamas with the Palestinian Authority, but also clearly refuses to explicitly accept a two-state solution for the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is in line with his published interview in February 2011, on the occasion of his most recent visit to Qatar's pro-Hamas Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, whom he cited later in the Q&A as his superior in the International Organization of Muslim Ulama [scholars]. In that interview, Ghannouchi declares that while Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin prophesied that Israel would be eliminated by 2027, his own view is that Israel could be eliminated even before that date. See and]


Q: There is a record of your referring to the Hamas government in Gaza as a model of democracy. Do you still believe that?

A: I do not remember making such comments about Hamas. But what cannot be denied is that Hamas was democratically elected, and so it is a legitimate government.

[Comment: For Ghannouchi's praise of Hamas "democracy" in Gaza, see and]


There's more of the same in the document, notably over the question of Ghannouchi's past support for violent resistance in Israel/Palestine. WINEP doesn't like that — but I don't remember it condemning the violent treatment of Palestinians, the adoption of collective punishment war doctrines, a policy of assassinations or more generally the violence-enforced occupation.