Tunisian Islamist leader embraces Turkey, praises Erbakan
ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 3/3/2011 12:00:00 AM |
Turkish political experience 'inspires the Arab world,' the leader of Tunisia's newly legalized Islamist movement 'Ennahda' (Awakening) said Wednesday.
Turkish political experience “inspires the Arab world,” the leader of Tunisia’s newly legalized Islamist movement “Ennahda” (Awakening) said Wednesday during a meeting with journalists in Istanbul.
Rached Ghannouchi, who was in exile during the era of ousted Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, came to Turkey to attend the funeral Tuesday of the country’s first Islamist prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan. He told the mostly Turkish and Arab journalists at the meeting that Turkey serves as an example for budding Tunisian democrats.
“We are learning from the experience of Turkey, especially the peace that has been reached in the country between Islam and modernity; it is a true example [to the Arab world],” Ghannouchi said.
His press conference took place at the Istanbul headquarters of the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or İHH, a Turkish Islamic charity that led the Gaza-bound aid flotilla raided by Israeli commandos in May, an operation that resulted in the deaths of nine activists.
Asked whether he and his party were receiving any support from Turkey and the Turkish government, Ghannouchi said only that Turkey’s example is in itself a form of support.
“The Turkish experience, the success of Turkey inspires the Arab world. Human rights, democratic freedoms and economic progress in Turkey – these are the biggest supports that Turkey gives to the Arab world,” he said.
[HH] Erbakan a ‘big brother’
Describing Erbakan as “not only a friend, but a big brother,” Ghannouchi said he heard of the Turkish politician’s death while he was in Tunis.
“This was a very tragic event,” he said. “The elaborate funeral that Erbakan received, those who attended and those who watched extended between 1.5 million and 2 million... the feelings evoked from the Turkish people showed how much respect and love they have for this leader”
Ghannouchi compared Erbakan to the intellectual forefathers and founders of the Muslim Brotherhood. “In the Arab world in my generation, when [people] talked about the Islamic movement, they talked about Erbakan. When they talked about Erbakan, it is comparable to the way they talked about [Brotherhood founders] Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb,” he said.
Asked his thoughts on the two Brotherhood figures, Ghannouchi did not shed light on whether his ideological beliefs were close to theirs. “Hassan al-Banna and Yusuf al-Qaradawi [another theologian] are not the only believers [in Islam] in the world. There are 1.5 billion believers on Earth,” he said.
A former radical preacher who now says he espouses moderate ideals similar to Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, Ghannouchi founded the Ennahda movement in 1981 with intellectuals inspired by the influential Egypt-born Muslim Brotherhood. The group was initially tolerated after Ben Ali took power in 1987 but denied legal registration.
[HH] Democracy for Tunisia
The revolution that toppled Ben Ali is still continuing, said Ghannouchi, who recently returned to Tunisia after a long exile in London. “The young people are still in the streets,” he said, adding that three successive governments in Tunisia have fallen in rapid succession.
“Both Islamists and secularists conducted the revolution in Tunis,” he said. When he informed the audience that his Ennahda party was no longer banned from participating in politics, one audience member shouted “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great.”
Ghannouchi opened his remarks at the press conference with the Muslim greeting “Peace be upon you,” to which the appropriate Islamic response came booming back from roughly half of the audience members.
The Islamist leader made a point of emphasizing his intention to embrace the developing democracy in Tunisia. “When we want to make a decision in a pluralistic society, then we should try to think about implementing democracy or a parliamentary system – we ask for the choice ... It is important to promote not only democracy but also unification,” he said. “We should not look backward. There are multiple parties in Tunis, so we have to respect the flourishing of that.”
Ghannouchi said his party was in the process of planning for the time when democratic elections take place. “We, of course, will participate in the elections, because we are the primary party in the country,” he said.
Asked whether he and his party would be willing to participate in the government prior to elections, given the open slots created by recently resigned ministers, Ghannouchi replied that “it is possible.”
In his remarks, Ghannouchi also touched on the freedom of the press, mentioning at least once that Turkey’s free press is an inspiration to the Arab world. “Freedom of the press is something we should nurture; protection of the news is a sort of liberation,” he said.
[HH] Rejecting al-Qaeda
Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri’s recent claim that the United States now enjoys more influence over Tunisia following the toppling of its dictator, was “definitely not true,” Ghannouchi said when asked about the statement.
“What happened in Tunisia and Egypt was by the will of the people. Europe and America supported the dictators up until the last moment, until the people spoke. Then they [the dictators] left. And the people did not accept the support [of the West],” he said.
Ghannouchi also came out strongly against any military intervention from Western nations in the current conflict in Libya between longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi and rebels based in the eastern province of Benghazi, saying the Libyan people would proceed according to their own will.
“If we’re talking about intervention, the Americans have had enough of failed interventions ... when they try to intervene in revolutions it is quite difficult,” Ghannouchi said.