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TUNISIA: Exiled Muslim leader arrives home after 22 years to throngs of supporters

Could Rachid Ghannouchi be Tunisia's Khomeini?

The exiled sheik returned to his homeland on Sunday after the country's Western-backed secular autocrat was ousted by a nationwide popular uprising.

Over 1,000 supporters turned out at the airport in Tunis to welcome Ghannouchi, the leader of the Nahda Islamist party, which was outlawed and brutally suppressed by ousted President Zine el Abidine ben Ali after it came in second to the ruling party in the 1989 elections with 17% of the vote, according to the BBC.

Although Ghannouchi has been living in exile in London for over two decades, his party and supporters were able to organize an impressive turnout with crowds chanting religious hymns and Koranic verses.

Many people who spoke with Babylon & Beyond said they support Ghannouchi as a victim of the former regime, but they don't see him as the next Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the fiery cleric who led Iran's revolution in 1979.

"The Tunisian people support people who have been oppressed," said Amel Mahri, a French teacher from the southern city of Sidi Bouzid, where the protest movement began after Mohamad Bouazziz, a young man working as a fruit vendor, set fire to himself in protest of continued police harassment.

"We are Muslims, we want to live, but those who are against us and think we will become like [Osama] bin Laden are wrong," she said.

Mahri had travelled to the capital along with five other members of her family aged 9 to 60.

Moncef Alibi, 60, pointed to Turkey as an example of a Muslim country that has struck a balance among democracy, tolerance and Islamic identity.

"Today, Turkey welcomes everyone, regardless of his or her religion," Alibi said. "This is message for the United States and Western countries: He who knows Islam knows democracy. We did not need the West to teach us."

Ghannouchi has said in numerous statements that he is returning to Tunisia as a citizen and has no political ambitions.

Nabil Zoughlani, a 36-year-old math teacher from Beja, said he, like many Tunisians, did not identify with Ghannouchi's politics but sympathized with him as a victim of repression.

"I'm not a member of Nahda but I was touched by his story," he said. "He was tortured and exiled, and the regime tried several times to kill him. He has the right to live in Tunisia. How could this man who has lived in Britain for 20 years be a terrorist?"

Ghannouchi had his critics, however.

A group of 20 to 30 women formed a counterprotest outside the airport's main entrance carrying signs that read "No to Terrorism" and "Welcome Free Tunisians."

RELATED:

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How Tunisia's revolution transforms politics of Egypt and region

Tunisian revolution shows hollowness of Arab system in face of people power

-- Sihem Hassaini in Tunis, Tunisia, and Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Sheik Rachid Ghannouchi, head of the Nahda movement, returns to Tunisia after 22 years in exile. He was greeted by at least 1,000 supporters. Credit: Reuters

Comments () | Archives (4)

Very smart --and deceptive-- way of equating Khomeini to Bin Laden; having the writer contrasting his/her own Ghannouchi-Khomeini analogy with the Tunisian woman talking of Bin Laden.

If it wasn't because you are some professional liars, your intelligence would really make you victorious.

Unfortunately for you, you fanatic secularists seem to never understand that intelligence doesn't have value on itself if God is not given prominence in your inspirations. Therefore brace yourselves to continue on your losing streak, and see how Iran continues to foil your wishful thinking.

If ghannouchi is the Tunisian equivalent of khomeini then why was this entity allowed to live in England amongst normal people. He should at least have been deported to some god-forsaken place in the muslim world. If he now manages to transform Tunisia into a little iran, then someone in our country needs to be held to account for the consequences.

abviously, you are not an intellect since your are using a picture to make a judgement about a nation you don't know.

it's true that women in tunisia don't wear miniskirts and hang out in bars desperately looking for men's attention, nor do they let corporations use them as sex objects in order to sell their products.

women are the driving force of tunisia. a driving force does not have to be exposed in pictures in order to be a driving force.

The gender of his supporters is very obvious. He apparently does not know what democracy is if he arbitrarily rules out the interests of half the population.

"No to Terrorism"

"Welcome Free Tunisians."


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