Tunisia: “The Islamists want democracy”

The Guardian reports:

Tunisia’s interim president, Foued Mebazaa, yesterday vowed “a complete break with the past” to calm fears that the revolution was being hijacked by the presence of the dictatorship’s ruling party in the interim government.

In his first televised speech, Mebazaa promised a “revolution of dignity and freedom” following the ousting of Tunisia’s dictator president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, after four weeks of street protests. Mebazaa promised to honour “all the legitimate aspirations of the uprising”.

Yesterday, as the interim cabinet held its first meeting, around 500 protestors, mostly the radical left and trade unions, took to the streets in central Tunis demanding that the ruling RCD party be excluded. But the mood in the capital was lightening.

Unlike previous days, the protesters on Bourguiba Avenue were not teargassed or beaten but were instead allowed to stand peacefully protesting until nightfall. Political prisoners, including a key dissident journalist, began to be released, the curfew was shortened, cafes reopened and people milled to work. In the narrow streets of the old medina, tourists were bartering over bags.

On Bourguiba Avenue, Azizi Tej stood in the crowd of demonstrators chanting “Tunisia is free”. An activist in the once banned Islamist Ennahda party, he had been imprisoned three times, tortured, had staged a series of hunger strikes, and had now taken to the streets with the secular radical left. He wanted the remnants of Tunisia’s old regime, the RCD party, to be excluded from the temporary caretaker government.

“The Islamists want democracy,” Tej said. “Lots of us were tortured, it was our Guantánamo Bay. We’ve paid a high price and now some people want to paint us as monsters, we’re not. My religion teaches that I must accept others. We’re proud to share the same God, Jews and Christians are our brothers. We don’t refuse women’s freedoms, we don’t refuse tourism – people would die of hunger if we didn’t have tourism.”

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One thought on “Tunisia: “The Islamists want democracy”

  1. Christopher Hoare

    All we can do is watch from a distance and hope, but the Guardian article does give credence to the possibility of a more democratic Tunisia arising from this ‘people’s revolution’. About 30 years ago, when I was looking to take a job in Algeria, those two neighboring countries were looking to be on the way to functioning and peaceful democracies. Inshallah, their time will come again.

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