Tunisia Islamist leader stirs fears of radicalism in video

October 12, 2012 - 2:33:59 am

TUNIS: Secular politicians in Tunisia said yesterday that a leaked video of a secret meeting between the leader of the ruling Islamist party and puritanical Salafis showed the government was not the moderate Islamist force it claimed to be.

In the video, Ennahda party leader Rached Ghannouchi is heard discussing which parts of the state have fallen into the hands of Islamists and advising Salafis on where they should focus their efforts to spread their influence further.

The footage has angered liberals who say Salafis threaten human rights in a country once seen as a beacon of Arab secularism, but which is now under siege from religious hardliners who have attacked cinemas and artistic performances, arguing that they violate Islam. Salafis also led an attack on the US embassy in Tunis last month that killed four people, after an anti-Islam film made in California sparked anger across the region.  

Ghannouchi’s office said his comments, which were made at a meeting in April and released on the Internet this week, were merely part of an attempt to persuade Salafis to work peacefully for change within a political framework. But secular politicians said the footage confirmed their fears about Ennahda, which rules with two junior partners in government, and warned of a new dictatorship.

“I made a mistake when I said before that Ennahda is moderate,” said Beji Caid Essebsi, who served as prime minister last year after former president Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali fled the country. “I am shocked ... after hearing this from the leader of the ruling party I’m afraid for Tunisia.”

Others said they would lobby for a parliamentary vote withdrawing confidence in the government.  “Ghannouchi’s remarks solved the mystery of why things have deteriorated in the country and Salafi violence has spiralled,” said Issam Chebbi of the Republican Party. Reuters