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Tunisia’s new government faces challenges: senior Ennahda member

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The new Tunisian government is facing countless challenges as it tries to achieve the goals of the revolution, political activist and senior member of Tunisia’s Ennahda Movement, Sayyed al-Firjani, said. He accused several groups of trying to obstruct the democratic transition in the country.

“There is a mafia made up of former regime loyalists who have stolen the country’s money and made it difficult for the government to salvage the economy and respond to the demands of the people who are always staging strikes,” Firjani told Al Arabiya’s Point of Order on Friday.

The Tunisian people, Firjani argued, are getting impatient and want to see their problems solved quickly.

“They have every right to do so, but other groups take advantage of this unrest to undermine the government.”

Other groups, Firjani explained, ran in the first post-revolution elections and lost which is why they are getting back at Ennahda Movement, which they were against from the start.

“This is despite the fact that Ennahda opened channels with all other factions and offered them positions in the new government including the Communist Party. They are to be blamed for that and not us.”

Firjani said that it is too soon to evaluate the performance of the government and that 100 days are not enough.

“I ask Tunisians to give us some time and then evaluate our performance.”
Firjani refuted reports of attempts to Islamize Tunisia’s economy and stressed that the government is seeking what is best for the Tunisian people.

“We did not reject any type of economy and we also welcome Islamic economy. It all depends on what will be beneficial for the people.”
Firjani said that recent statements by Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki, about Islam being the solution to many problems, were his personal opinion, shared by many others.

“We want to solve people’s problems and build a democracy that will become a model among Arab and Muslim countries which will be based on all the values we cherish, including Islam.”

When asked whether his statements about establishing a civil state with Islam as its religion and Arabic as its language was a means of evading the mention of the word Sharia (Islamic law), Firjani said that Islam is an integral part of the Tunisian identity and its values will be an important component in the constitution as long as they are part of a democratic system that respects basic rights and freedoms.

“Many people are talking about the Sharia and I disagree with this insistence on sticking to specific words. The Prophet said that the closest to God are the most benevolent and when we offer job opportunities and medical care and eliminate poverty, we will be implementing the teachings of Islam.”

According to Firjani, drinking alcohol and choosing to wear a bikini or a full veil are a matter of personal freedom.

“If some practices are seen as contrary to the Sharia, law and the constitution will be the reference, but freedoms are a priority.”

Firjani justified not cancelling the law that forbids polygamy even though it contradicts with Islam by looking for what is best for Tunisian women and families.

“We do not want to scare married women by cancelling this law and most of them refuse polygamy in principle.”

Firjani explained that despite polygamy being sanctioned in Islam, Ennahda does not encourage men to marry more than one woman especially since prioritizing the interests of the people is one of the ruler’s duties in Islam.

“As for inheritance law, we support the Islamic law that makes men inherit twice that of women since this is better for wives and mothers who need financial support.”

Firjani slammed those who speak in the name of the Salafi school of thought and embark on violent actions under this pretext.

“We have no problem with peaceful Salafis even if they criticize us, for this is their right as citizens. Yet we condemn those who take arms and will never be lenient with them.”

Firjani admitted that arms are being smuggled from Libya yet not a wide scale.

Firjani attributed lack of political participation on the part of Salafis in Tunisia like what happened in post-revolution Egypt to the limited numbers of Salafis in Tunisia.

“We do not have that many Salafis in Tunisia, yet they still have the right to form parties and associations if they want to.”

Firjani denied that Ennahda movement was not objective in dealing with the inter-Palestinian conflict when its members chose to receive Gaza ousted Prime Minister Ismail Haniya.

“We met with Haniya because he was democratically elected but was ousted because other powers did not want him. Nobody has the right to tell a people who they should elect.”

Firjani stressed that the Ennahda government is seeking to establish good ties with countries all over the world, including the United States even though they differ about the Palestinian cause.

“We want to have good relations with the West and excellent relations with Gulf nations and all Arab countries,” he concluded.


(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)