Wasn’t it wonderful to see the Tunisian dictator Zayn al-Abidin Bin Ali being forced to flee the country to Saudi Arabia (a longtime refuge for fleeing dictators)? Even better would have been to see him and his family put on trial for their crimes against the people of Tunisia.
But what now? Is Tunisia about to taste genuine freedom or will it go down the Algeria 1992 route? Back then, to thwart the Islamic Salvation Front’s victory in democratic elections, the army (with the backing of some key European powers including France) intervened, cancelled the second round of elections, imprisoned thousands of key FIS leaders throughout the country and set about a killing spree to intimidate its supporters into submission. The result was years of terrible human carnage from which Algeria has yet to fully recover.
Sky’s foreign affairs editor, Tim Marshall, was yesterday reporting, that he believed the fleeing of Bin Ali was due to an internal coup and it was the Tunisian army that seemed to be (literally) calling the shots.
I saw the Tunisian activist Intissar Kherigi on BBC News last night saying that she believed the Tunisian people would not accept the government that has now assumed power and would insist on free elections being held. I hope she is right. Which brings me to another memory about the Tunisian political leader, Shaykh Rashid al-Ghannushi, who was forced into exile by Bin Ali.
I recall attending a meeting of the Young Muslims UK back in December 1992 where one of the guest speakers was Shaykh Rashid al-Ghannushi. Ghannushi had recently arrived in London. His political party, an-Nahda, had made a strong showing in the 1989 elections and was evidently deemed to be a threat to Bin Ali’s hold on power.
I subsequently met Rashid al-Ghannushi at several other YM events over the years and helped interview him for Trends back in 1994 or 1995. He struck me as being a committed democrat and he also decisively answered a nagging question I had about the participation of Islamic political parties in elections which was about what would happen if the people of a country voted in favour of something regarded as ‘unIslamic’ by Muslim ‘scholars’. Whose will should triumph: that of the people or that of unelected ‘scholars’? Ghannushi’s answer was that if the people of Tunisia voted to open nudist beaches then he would respect their wishes (though he would not agree with it).
At the time, Ghannushi’s talks in the UK would often be translated into English by the Palestinian activist Azzam Tamimi who would go on to write a book about him called ‘Rachid Ghannouchi: A democrat within Islamism’.
Anyway, let’s hope that the people of Tunisia are soon free and free to elect their own leadership.