Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of the Ennahda party in Tunisia, discussed the recent developments in Tunisia including the new constitution, reasons for the democratic transition’s success, and challenges ahead for the country.   

On February 26, 2014, the Middle East Program of the Woodrow Wilson Center hosted a private meeting with Ghannouchi. Jane Harman, Director, President, and CEO of the Woodrow Wilson Center, moderated the event.

Ghannouchi started his talk by noting that Tunisia succeeded in drafting and adopting a new constitution based on democratic foundations. He said that Tunisians had struggled with tyranny and fought against a dictatorship since the 19th century. Ghannouchi described the division among Tunisian elites as one of the main reasons for the failure of democratization attempts. He explained that elites were divided into two camps, Islamists and secularists, which created deep polarization and made consensus difficult to reach. He added that after the revolution, he and Ennahda promoted dialogue and concentrated on unifying the elites in order to bridge the divide and achieve the common goal of democracy for Tunisia.

Ghannouchi also emphasized the importance of consensus during the period of transition. He explained that despite the fact that simple majority rule is compatible with democratic foundations, in order to attain long-lasting democracy during a transitional period, it is paramount to have consensus. Ghannouchi stressed that promoting dialogue among two groups holding very different views was not an easy task. He noted that his party, Ennahda, accepted to resign in order to avoid any doubt that the next election would be affected by the government, adding that Ennahda sought more important goals, such as creating a constitution supported by different sides.

Ghannouchi discussed some challenges that Tunisia currently faces, including terrorism and economic issues. He explained that some groups try to hijack Islam, linking it with terrorism and presenting it as anti-democracy and anti-women. He stressed that unlike these mischaracterizations, Islam has accepted diversity and plurality from its beginning, with all fractions of religions coexisting together. Ghannouchi maintained that such groups are marginalized in Tunisia and that there is no future for them there. Regarding economic concerns, Ghannouchi mentioned the 15 percent unemployment rate, which is lower than previous years, and the now 3 percent positive growth rate. Economic issues remain a real problem, however, he said. In his closing remarks, Ghannouchi expressed hope that an enduring democracy in Tunisia will prove to the world that democracy in Tunisia was not an accident and that it is possible for other countries in the Middle East to achieve democracy as well.

By the Middle East Program