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Tunisia's Ennahda ‘to separate politics from religion’

Fethi Belaid / AFP | Ennahdha party leader Rached Ghannouchi arrives for a session at the Assembly of People's Representatives in Tunis on February 16, 2016.

Tunisia's Islamist Ennahda party will separate it religious activities from political ones, its chief said in statements published Thursday, declaring there was “no longer justification for political Islam” in the country post Arab spring.


Rached Ghannouchi, an intellectual who once advocated a strict application of Islamic sharia law, made the comments to France’s Le Monde newspaper ahead of a weekend congress to formalise the change.

"Tunisia is now a democracy. The 2014 constitution has imposed limits on extreme secularism and extreme religion," he was quoted as saying.

"We want religious activity to be completely independent from political activity.

"This is good for politicians because they would no longer be accused of manipulating religion for political means and good for religion because it would not be held hostage to politics," said Ghannouchi.

His comments come on the eve of a three-day congress for Ennahda, which is part of a coalition government.

Leaders say the congress will take the formal step of making the separation between political and Islamic activities.

Ghannouchi, who is expected to be re-elected as party head barring any last-minute surprise, said: "We are going towards a party which specialises in political activities.

"We are leaving political Islam and entering democratic Islam. We are Muslim democrats who no longer claim to represent political Islam," he added.

He described Ennahda as a "political, democratic and civil party" but said its point of reference remain rooted in the values of ancient and modern Islam.

‘Important moment’

Sophie Bessis, a researcher at the France’s Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS) think tank, said the move was “an important moment in the political life of the party and the political life of Tunisia”.

“Ennahda can finally become a full part of the democratic political framework,” she told FRANCE 24.

Ghannouchi and other intellectuals inspired by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood in 1981 founded the Islamic Tendency Movement, which became Ennahda in 1989.

The party was persecuted under the regime of strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his predecessor Habib Bourguiba.

Ghannouchi was sentenced to jail under Bourguiba and lived in exile for 20 years, returning home after the 2011 Arab Spring uprising ousted Ben Ali.

He received a triumphant welcome from supporters and won the post-revolution election in October 2011, but two years later Ghannouchi had to step aside amid a deep political crisis.

In 2014, the secularist Nidaa Tounes party of President Beji Caid Essebsi won parliamentary elections, beating Ennahda, which came second.

But in January Ennahda became the single biggest party when some lawmakers quit Nidaa Tounes to form a new bloc in parliament.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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