Carving a path for democracy and Islam to co-exist in Tunisia

Carving a path for democracy and Islam to co-exist in Tunisia

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By Sheikh Rached Ghannouchi
Today, we inaugurate, by God’s Grace, the tenth national party congress of Nahdha Party, the second national congress after the revolution.
Even during the most difficult periods of secret activity and police harassment under dictatorship, our Movement was committed to holding its national congress regularly, as a way of evaluating and reforming its path, reviewing its policies, and renewing its leadership. I do not believe that there is another party in the country, despite the great number of parties, that is holding its tenth party congress – which means that you are the oldest amongst political parties. Our first congress was held in 1979 – which means that in a period of around a third of a century, ten congress were held – that is an
average of one congress every less than four years. That is an expression of the fact that Nahdha is run by institutions, by democracy, by consultation – an important Islamic value.At the beginning of this occasion, we pray for the souls of the martyrs of the revolution and martyrs of the struggle against dictatorship, led by martyrs of the movement, such as student Othman Ben Mahmoud- through whom we salute Tunisia’s youth.
We also remember the martyrs of the national army and police, and victims of the war against terrorism, and victims killed by terrorism, led by martyrs Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi.
We reaffirm to all those that we remain faithful to the martyrs and that their sacrifices will not be in vain.
Our accumulated experience in the war against terrorism has struck fear into the opposite camp, which is now receding at the hands of the successful preemptive operations by our security and military forces. As we reaffirm Nahdha’s absolute support for the state in its war against ISIS and takfiri extremists, we say to them that Tunisia, despite all the sacrifices, is stronger than their hatred, and it will, God willing, defeat them. In this regard, the great city of Ben Guerdane set a living and striking example that our people will never be defeated by terrorism. A small city that refused to allow evil terrorists to settle in it – for Tunisia will not allow terrorism to triumph, thanks to its national unity and to the well-established concept of the state in this country – even if they may protest against the state or criticize it, they refuse to move from order to chaos – we salute the Tunisian state.
The path of the revolution, therefore, is one of political successes, re-establishing security, and strengthening international solidarity, culminating in Tunisia being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the National Dialogue Quartet. Tunisia remains the shining candle among countries of the Arab Spring, having sparked the revolutions, demonstrating that democracy in the Arab world is possible.
In 2011, the spark was lit. Five ships sailed, carrying the hopes of their peoples for freedom and dignity. However, sadly within two years, storms and hardships surrounded those ships – storms of conspiracies, division, ideological polarization, mutual hatred, exclusion, revenge, assassinations, and terrorism.
Some ships met with destruction; others drowned in coups, civil wars and chaos. Tunisia’s ship was the exception. It was able to overcome the storms of the counter-revolution, chaos and destruction, thanks to Tunisians adopting the principle of dialogue, acceptance of the other, and avoidance of exclusion and revenge. We were able, by God’s grace, to bring Tunisia to the shores of safety.
At the height of the acute crisis of 2013, which threatened to drown Tunisia’s ship in the swamps of division, His Excellency President Beji Caied-Essebsi invited me to a dialogue, in a historic step. I agreed, and I said to those who criticized me at the time for going to Paris to meet him, that I was ready to go anywhere for the sake of Tunisia’s interest.
As I renew Nahdha’s wholehearted support for the policy of consensus, I say today to those who seek political gain through hostility to Nahdha: Do not divide our country. Our hands are stretched out to everyone; the system of consensus accommodates everyone; Tunisia’s ship can only sail safely if it carries all Tunisians.
In this context, I would like to commend members of the outgoing Consultative Council of the Party, and Nahdha members of the National Constituent Assembly who facilitated Tunisia’s path towards social peace and consensus through their difficult and wise decisions: when they chose to preserve the first article of the Constitution of 1959, when they voted against the political exclusion law, and when they approved the national dialogue roadmap. Thus they proved that Nahdha is a national party that places Tunisia’s interest above its own. And when we were discussing stepping down from legitimate elected government, we repeatedly said: We may lose power, but Tunisia will win.
I am full of pride in our sons and daughters who were patient and persevered, and withstood the campaigns of doubt, demonization and provocation against their Party.
At this sensitive juncture, I urge them to continue in the same way, for the most important thing for us, before anything else, is our country’s stability and prosperity. We stress that Nahdha will remain a pillar of support for Tunisia’s stability. We renew our support for the government of Prime Minister Essid and our commitment to the unity of the governing coalition and to the method of consensus which created the Tunisian exception.
We, in Nahdha, are serious and sincere in our desire to learn from our shortcomings before and after the revolution. We admit them and we humbly address them through reform. In our Congress we have an “Evaluation motion” – we are a party that evolves and reforms itself, and are not afraid to admit our mistakes.
We are a party that never stopped evolving – from the seventies to this day – from an ideological movement engaged in the struggle for identity – when identity was under threat, to a comprehensive protest movement against an authoritarian regime, to a national democratic party devoted to reform, based on a national reference drawing from the values of Islam, committed to the articles of the Constitution and the spirit of our age, thus consolidating the clear and definitive line between Muslim democrats and extremist and violent trends that falsely attribute themselves to Islam.
The specialization and distinction between the political and other religious or social activities is not a sudden decision or a capitulation to temporary pressures, but rather the culmination of a historical evolution in which the political field and the social, cultural and religious field were distinct in practice in our movement.
We are keen to keep religion far from political struggles and conflicts, and we call for the complete neutrality of mosques away from political disputes and partisan utilization, so that they play a role of unification rather than division.
Yet we are astonished to see the insistence of some to exclude religion from public life, despite the fact that the leaders of the national liberation movement considered religious sentiments to be a catalyst for revolution against occupation – just as today we see the values of Islam as a catalyst for development and promoting work, sacrifice, truthfulness, and integrity, and a positive force in our war against ISIS and extremists and supporting the state’s efforts in development. Otherwise, if we do not counter
ISIS – which claims to represent Islam – through using Islamic values, how can we counter it? We need scholars who champion Islamic moderation and refute extremism in the name of Islam.
Despotic regimes disfigured Nahdha’s relationship with the state, through repression, defamation and fear mongering. But they have failed, by God’s Grace, to make the state and Nahdha mutual enemies. Our experience in government after the revolution proves that Nahdha is part of the state and a source of significant support for it. Our leaving government to promote the country’s unity proves that we are not power seekers, nor after domination nor monopoly of power.
The Tunisian state is our ship, which must carry all Tunisian men and women without any exception, exclusion of marginalization.
We ask here: when will attempts to undermine the state stop? And in whose interest are these attempts to weaken it, while it is combating terrorism, and seek anarchist methods to promote breaking the law?
The time has come not only to condemn that behavior, but to consider it a crime against the nation, martyrs and future generations.
Our call for a just state becomes devoid of meaning and value if that state is not also strong, able to apply the law and the Constitution and protect freedoms, under the supervision of the legislative and judicial powers, the specialized oversight bodies, civil society and the media.
Freedom does not mean chaos, just as the state’s power does not mean repression and denial of freedoms. It is necessary for the revolution to reinstate the role of our well-established state and of its institutions and members, providing for their needs, adopting incentives that encourage productivity and eliminate the mentality of routine administration, the “come back tomorrow”, “no network connection”, and “A little something for me”.
The dignity of public administration workers is part of the state’s dignity, and no economic or social renaissance can take place without a real administrative reform that includes full digitization and elimination of paper administration. When will we be able to have an administration where a businessman or a young entrepreneur can create a company in a few hours instead of wasting his life from one department to another.
While it was one of the gains of the revolution to develop administrative working hours by adopting the five-day week, it is now necessary to accelerate the pace of reform far from slogans and political wrangling.
We are proud of our state, we demand rights from it, and we fulfill our duties towards it. Amongst the prerequisites of reinstating respect for the state is that we announce a war on corruption, and that no one should enjoy impunity that places him above the law.
I say clearly that Nahdha Party is committed to combating corruption, bribery, tax evasion and wasting of public wealth. Our call for reconciliation does not mean whitewashing corruption or justifying or recreating a new system of corruption.
Our aim is to distinguish between the majority of businessmen and the minority implicated in corruption, and giving the latter the opportunity to own up, apologize and give back that which they acquired illegally. That would help encourage free economic enterprise.
We have stressed our support for the President’s economic reconciliation initiative, while we await the discussion of its details at the Assembly of People’s Representatives.
I also stress our commitment to the Transitional Justice process. Furthermore, I call for a comprehensive national reconciliation that turns a new page and prevents the perpetuation of enmity. The  comprehensive national reconciliation we all seek is not the initiative of one person or one party, but for a whole country looking forward to the future.
Thus we have said repeatedly, we are for a comprehensive national reconciliation and for cooperation and consensus-building with all those who recognize the revolution and its martyrs and respect the Constitution, a partnership with all those who regard the revolution as an opportunity for all of us – islamists, destourians, leftists, and all intellectual and political trends, so we can all go forward steadily towards a future that is free from grudges and exclusion.
Nor is it a “deal under the table” but rather a national vision of reconciliation between the state and citizens, between the state and deprived regions, between opposing political elites, between the past and the present – because Nahdha is a force of unification not one of division.
This also applies to the way we view our history, not as contradictory phases and figures – rather we see Khaireddine Al-Tounisi, Ahmed Bey, liberator of slaves, Moncef Bey, the late leader Habib Bourguiba, Farhat Hached, Abdelaziz Thaalibi, Salah Ben Youssef, Sheikh Mohamed Taher Ben Achour, and Tahar al-Haddad, God’s mercy be upon them all, all those and others, as leading symbols of our dear nation, as sources of inspiration for us all, which must all enjoy our respect. They undoubtedly had their mistakes, but we take the positives and build on them.
Tunisians are tired of politicians bickering on media debates; they are concerned about security, terrorism, the cost of living, economic development, and the struggle of vulnerable groups, the poor and deprived, and marginalized regions. You, Nahdha members and supporters, must not be drawn into the elite’s ideological battles, but should rather focus on the concerns of fellow citizens. A modern state is not run through ideologies, big slogans and political wrangling. It is guided by social and economic programs and solutions that provide security and prosperity for all.
Nahdha had evolved from defending identity, to ensuring the democratic transition, and today moves on to focus on the economic transition. The new phase is primarily about the economy.
Since liberation from colonization, Tunisia has achieved much in the fields of education, health, women’s rights, literacy and other fields of human development. We embrace and value those achievements. We commit to preserving and developing them, within the framework of the continuity of the state and our pride in the republican system and Tunisian society and its choices, as enshrined in the Tunisian Constitution.
I salute Tunisian women, in urban and rural areas, in Tunisia and abroad, in schools, universities and workplaces, in society and at home. Our movement is very proud of the gains and rights achieved by Tunisian women, and will continue to support them to guarantee further freedom and advancement in fulfilling their potential, and preserving the social fabric and the family as the source of social cohesion and unity.
We, Tunisians, are the product of the struggle of our mothers – Sheikh Abdelfattah Mourou sitting here in front of you is the fruit of a hard-working illiterate woman, who gave Tunisian such a man. My own mother was also illiterate, but while my father merely focused on teaching us the Quran, she insisted on sending me and my brothers to continue our education, and accepted to work in the field with my sisters to give the males – only unfortunately the chance to be educated. My own wife, a university graduate, devoted her life to her children’s education such that my four daughters obtained their PhDs or masters, as did our two sons who have masters in law and economics. I salute Tunisian women, who made this nation an educated developed nation.
I say to young people, torn between ambition and despair, who are disappointed in the outcome of the revolution and the political class: We hear you.
You are the future for which we work. The difficulties you face today must not be a source of pessimism or disengagement from public life. We need to overcome these challenges together, through sincere attachment to the nation, determination and persistence.
We call on the political elite to think about the youth and to provide them with the space to participate and to assume responsibility. It is high time for a national pact for youth development, so that no young man or woman is left marginalized, with no job, house, or prospects to establish a family.
Education is Tunisians’ most valued capital. Today we are required to agree on a national vision for its reform in such a way that guarantees balance between knowledge and ethics, and employability. We have to address the dangers in young people’s environment: violence, drugs, all the ways to exploit young people’s minds through terrorism’s evil plots. We have to address how education has become divorced from the job market.
We must break with ad-hoc reforms and with the search for quantity without quality. It is necessary to stress that education must be a door to work, not a bridge to unemployment.
No human development can take place without a cultural renaissance, without supporting creativity, without establishing cultural and sports activities in all regions, particularly in marginalized regions and popular urban neighborhoods. We want to see in every popular neighborhood a swimming pool, a sports centre, a cultural centre.
Strengthening the vocational training system and promoting it and reinstating its value are undoubtedly among the pillars of our reform plan.
The post-revolution state inherited an unemployment rate that was close to 14% according to official statistics in 2011, and the current rate is close to that.
Unemployment is the result of historical accumulations in the fields of education and training, the restriction of economic enterprise by laws that restrict freedom of investment, and by weak infrastructure in most regions of the country making them unattractive for economic projects.
Overcoming unemployment can only take place within a holistic economic model based on investment, which creates jobs and achieves balanced regional development and eliminates the mentality which eschews entrepreneurship and even the value of work.
We believe in the necessity of implementing the principle of positive discrimination enshrined in the Constitution for the benefit of deprived regions. We welcome and support the coming process of decentralization after the local elections, just as we support the right of the regions to a percentage of their natural resources in order to achieve regional development.
As I call upon businessmen to invest, particularly in the inner regions, I stress the necessity to lift all restrictions placed before them in this regard.
I call from this platform for an urgent economic recovery program that prioritizes reactivating obstructed production in certain strategic sectors and implementing stalled public projects. This program must adopt exceptional measures in all fields related to employment, investment and developing deprived regions, and mobilize internal financial resources and reduce dependence on external debt by encouraging national savings, reforming taxation and further simplification of the procedures for creating companies and initiating projects.
It is necessary to seek to implement a major economic project in each priority district over the next five years, to begin to distribute national lands to young entrepreneurs, to launch a legislative and administrative revolution to lift restrictions to investment and entrepreneurship, and to support the government’s work through a major economic ministry.
It is also important to stress the need to spread social welfare coverage particularly for workers in the agricultural field, and to direct subsidies to those who need them, to reinstate the culture of work and the link between fulfilling one’s duty and demanding one’s right.
As I renew my call for a social truce that preserves the rights of workers and protects economic institutions, I salute the important role played by the Tunisian General Workers’ Union, the Union of Industry, Commerce and Handicrafts, the Union of Agriculture and Fisheries and all national organizations for their role in development.
Your Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen, The revolution gave Tunisians abroad for the first time the right to be part of parliament and to elect their representatives, as an integral component of Tunisia. I call for further support to them as they face a new wave of xenophobia. And I call on them to further strengthen their economic ties to their beloved homeland through increasing transfers and spending their summer holidays in Tunisian hotels, as well as investing, and it is necessary to create incentives for them to do so.
It is important in this regard to support Tunisian diplomacy in its official and cultural dimensions, and economic diplomacy in particular. I stress Nahdha’s commitment to supporting the state’s foreign policy, and Tunisia’s role in spreading peace, consensus and combating terrorism around the world. As I commend the steps made by our Libyan neighbors towards reconciliation and unity, it is our hope that the Arab world will soon inaugurate an age of peace and comprehensive reconciliation.
We also express our commitment to the Arab Maghreb Union, and we salute our neighbors Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania and Libya, and renew our commitment to strengthening our relations with our Arab, Muslim and African neighbors, and our pride in the good relations between Tunisia and Europe, the United States of America and all countries around the world.
We are proud that the Tunisian experience, which has won international acclaim, has proven that the solution to conflict is consensus-building and seeking the foundation for co-existence. We have demonstrated that democracy is possible in the Arab world, and that democracy is the solution to corruption, bribery, despotism, chaos and terrorism, and that investing in democracy is better and more effective than supporting regressive dictatorships.
The solution is reconciliation between the poor and the rich, between the north and south, between cultures and civilizations, between faiths. Our world needs mutual understanding, peace, solidarity, security and tolerance.
Nahdha’s members, with their blood, tears and sacrifices, have gone through trials and tribulations that taught us courage to admit our errors and review our policies far from any arrogance or egoism.
Self-criticism is a condition for evolution in the modern world, and just as we have practiced it throughout our history, we will consolidate it in our Tenth Congress, for which Tunisians have many expectations.
The success of this congress is primarily about presenting a renewed united Nahdha that is able to participate in solving Tunisia’s problems, a party of national ambition, a party of objective analysis and constructive criticism that give rise to a democratic alternative, a party that is open to its environment and to all capabilities and potential, a party that is proud of its members – women and men.
Every individual in Nahdha is a story of sacrifice and heroism. Families that have been torn apart and exiled; tens of thousands of prisoners.. Nahdhaouis sacrificed a lot for the sake of Tunisia – that is why we regard Nahdha as the shared possession of Tunisia and all Tunisians, before belonging to Nahdha members and supporters. That is what strengthens our conviction that the choice of reform is our path to rising to our people’s aspirations, and that partnership and cooperation are our choice. Tunisia cannot be ruled in the coming years by the logic of majority and minority but rather by the logic of consensus and partnership.
For many years, I was banned from entering Tunisia. When I used to see Tunis Air flights at any airport around the world, I would dream of returning to my land, dreams that were then very far from reality.
Will I return home one day?
Will I once again meet our sons and daughters scattered between dozens of prisons and places of exile?
Will I ever have the right to walk the streets of my country and congratulate my fellow Tunisians, my friends and family on festivals and Eids?
That dream has become a reality, by God’s Grace. And it continues to grow inside me day by day, turning from the dream of return to the dream of building a new beginning for Tunisia.
A dream of a better Tunisia – a united Tunisia; a democratic, developed and inclusive Tunisia.
We must share this dream with all Tunisians, as we look together with optimism, determination and hope to the future, not towards the past.
It is the Tunisian dream that motivates us to work hard and sacrifice in order to turn the revolution’s dreams into reality.
You, Tunisian men and women, are stronger than all difficulties and challenges.
You, grandchildren of Hannibal, Jugurtha, Oqba, Ibn Khaldun, el-Chebbi; children of Carthage, Kairouan, Mehdia and al-Zaytouna; you are able, God willing, through your unity and solidarity, through your attachment to your beloved country and your belief in yourselves, to achieve what we aspire to, and more – to achieve the Tunisian dream, just as you created, through your consensus, the Tunisian exception; and just as you sparked, with your courage and defiance, the flame of the Arab Spring.
It is time for Tunisia’s ship to leave the shore, to sail on its journey towards development and prosperity for all its people.
By God’s grace, we inaugurate this Congress, and we ask God to guide us to choose what is best for our country and our shared future.
(Sheikh Rached Ghannouchi is the President of the Nahdha Party. Transcript of Nahdha’president Rached Ghannouchi’s speech at the opening ceremony of the Tenth Party Congress)

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