by Ariel Ben Solomon
October 29, 2014
Unlike former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, the leader of Tunisia's Islamist Ennahda party acted pragmatically when faced with overwhelming opposition.
Supporters of the Islamist Ennahda movement wave party flags during a campaign event in Tunis. (photo credit:REUTERS)
Tunisia's Ennahda party, the first Islamist movement to secure power after the 2011 “Arab Spring” revolts, conceded defeat on Monday in elections, perhaps drawing a lesson from the failed power grab of Islamists in Egypt.
Unlike former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, Ennahda’s leader, Rached Ghannouchi, an Islamist scholar who spent decades in exile in Britain, acted pragmatically when faced with overwhelming opposition.
Instead of trying to force his party’s Islamist vision on much of the population that is less religious, Ghannouchi did not overstay his welcome, deciding to continue playing the political game, instead of seizing power in ways reminiscent of Morsi.
His party ruled in a coalition until it was forced to make way for a caretaker government during a political crisis at the start of this year.
Ennahda is playing a smarter game than the Brotherhood did in Egypt, understanding that in Tunisia, where at least half of the country opposes Islamists, it must follow the path of slowly building grassroots support.
However, Ghannouchi’s pragmatism should not be mistaken for moderation.
Martin Kramer, an expert on the Middle East and president of Shalem College in Jerusalem, has followed Ghannouchi’s sayings and doings. He “has urged violence against US interests, and he continues to demand Israel’s destruction,” Kramer wrote in “A US Visa for Rachid Ghannouchi?,” an article the Washington Institute for Near East Policy published back in 1994.
In 1989, on a visit to the US, Ghannouchi lashed out at the US for its reaction to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, calling it “Crusader America” and the “enemy of Islam,” and saying that the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, was doing good – “joining together two Arab states out of twenty-two, praise be to God.”
Ghannouchi went on to state: “There must be no doubt that we will strike anywhere against whoever strikes Iraq... We must wage unceasing war against the Americans until they leave the land of Islam, or we will burn and destroy all their interests across the entire Islamic world... Muslim youth must be serious in their warning to the Americans that a blow to Iraq will be a license to strike American and Western interests throughout the Islamic world.”
Ghannouchi took two visits to Iran in 1990 meant to thaw relations between Sunni Islamists and Shi’ite Iran. Kramer quotes him as saying on the second visit, at the Islamic Conference on Palestine, which included Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad leaders: “The greatest danger to civilization, religion and world peace is the United States administration. It is the Great Satan.”
Moreover, in 1991, he was quoted as urging Palestinian Islamists to destroy Israel.
“I think that the approach of Palestinian Islamists must be the liberation of Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea,” the Tunisian Islamist said. “Any part that is liberated is a gain, provided the price is not the sale of the rest of Palestine.
“Palestine belongs to the Muslims and must be liberated in its entirety. The truth cannot be divided,” he said.
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