The leader of a Tunisian Islamist party that was long outlawed by authorities has returned to his homeland after two decades in exile. About 1,000 people crowded into the Tunis airport Sunday to welcome Rachid Ghanouchi, leader of the Ennahdha, or Renaissance, party. His return from London follows the ouster of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was forced from power by violent protests this month after 23 years in power. Ennahdha was branded an Islamic terrorist group by Ben Ali but is considered moderate by scholars. Ghanouchi has said he is not interested in running for president or other posts in upcoming elections, which are set to take place within six months. His party has moved quickly to carve out a place in the political scene, taking part in demonstrations and meeting with the prime minister.
An Egyptian news report has identified Rashid Ghannouchi (many spelling variations) as a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood “abroad.” Ghannouchi is the leader in-exile of the Tunisian Islamist movement known as Nahada (aka Ennahda, Al Nahda) and can best be described as an independent Islamist power center who is tied to the global Muslim Brotherhood by his membership in the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR) and his important position in the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), both organizations led by Global Muslim Brotherhood Youssef Qaradawi. Al-Ghannouchi is also one of the founding members of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), a Saudi organization closely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and dedicated to the propagation of “Wahabist” Islam throughout the world. Ghannouchi is known for his thinking on the issue of Islam and citizenship rights.
In 1994, scholar Martin Kramer reported on the extremist background of Al-Ghannouchi. According to that report:
Assuming a valid distinction can be made between Islamists who are “extremist” and “reformist,” Ghannouchi clearly belongs to the first category. Since his last visit to the United States, he has openly threatened U.S. interests, supported Iraq against the United States and campaigned against the Arab-Israeli peace process. Indeed, Ghannouchi in exile has personified the rejection of U.S. policies, even as he dispatches missives to the State Department.
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