The Spectacle Blog

Exiled Muslim Leader Returns to Tunisia

By on 1.30.11 | 2:00PM

While much of the world's attention is focussed on Egypt the political situation in Tunisia is far from settled.

Matters became more complicated today when Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of Tunisia's Islamist movement, returned after nearly two decades of exile in London.

Ghannouchi has been portrayed as a Muslim leader who favors democracy. Indeed, in 2001, Azzam Tamimi wrote a book about Ghannouchi titled, Rachid Ghannounchi: A Democrat within Islamism. (On a side note, it was Tamimi who in January 2008 said during a debate on Iranian TV that Israeli Jews should go back to Germany. So perhaps it was Tamimi who gave Helen Thomas her inspiration. But I digress.)

For his part, Ghannouchi insists he's no Khomeini. Yet no less an authority on the Middle East than Martin Kramer notes the Sunni cleric has long admired the Iranian Revolution. Gabriel Schienmann also warns us not to be fooled by Ghannouchi citing his support for Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the destruction of Israel.

Now there are those such as California State University political science professor Asad AbuKhalil who argue that the Tunisian protests are entirely secular in nature while others such as Daniel Larison at The American Conservative argue the Islamists enjoy little influence in Tunisia and thus there is little chance they will rise to power. The Tunisian uprisings might well be secular in their inspiration. Yet Islamists like Ghannouchi know an opportunity when they see one. Even if an Islamist government doesn't come to power in Tunisia they could play a key role in shaping a future government. A future government that might very well be more repressive than the Ben Ali regime and a future government that might also be quite anti-American.

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