Islamist leader returns to Tunisia

THOUSANDS turned out to welcome Islamist leader Rached Ghannouchi after more than 20 years in exile, as he eyed a political future for his Ennahda movement after the fall of Tunisia’s regime.

“God is great!” Ghannouchi cried out, raising his arms in triumph as he walked into the arrivals hall of Tunis airport, with thousands of cheering supporters crowding around him before driving off to visit his family.

The interim government installed in the north African state after the fall of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on January 14 has granted unprecedented freedoms allowing key exiles to return despite bans.

Ghannouchi, a former radical preacher who says he now espouses moderate ideals similar to Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, was persecuted in Tunisia since founding his Islamist movement in 1981.

He still officially has a life sentence hanging over his head for plotting against the president, although the new government has drawn up an amnesty law for convicted activists like Ghannouchi that now has to go before parliament.

In contrast to his preachings from the 1970s in which he condemned the rise of secular ideas in his homeland and the advances in women’s rights, Ghannouchi also said that Sharia Islamic law now had “no place in Tunisia”.

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