Tunisia set to release political prisoners
Members of the Islamist Ennahdha movement among those set to go free and could have role in Tunisia's political future
Tunisia's Islamist party leader Rachid Ghannouchi, pictured in London in 2000, set conditions today for his return home. Photograph: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images
Wednesday 19 January 2011 15.55 EST
This article is 5 years old
Tunisia's new government appears on the brink of releasing political prisoners, including all members of the Islamist Ennahdha movement.
Najib Chebbi, an opposition party leader who has joined the new government, claimed that all prisoners had been released. A prominent figure in Ennahdha said it had been unable to confirm the release but was hopeful it would happen shortly.
Samir Dilou, a lawyer and Ennahdha leader, said: "We've spoken to the families. It is not confirmed. They are not free yet." But the government could discuss a general amnesty as early as tomorrow.
Supporting the idea of Ennahdha's involvement in Tunisia's political future, Chebbi told the BBC Hard Talk programme: "To have democracy, we must integrate any people who want to respect the law and play the game of democracy. Moderate political Islam is a component of the Arab and Islamist landscape."
A general amnesty would open the way for Ennahdha's exiled leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, to come home. He has said he would wait for a general amnesty before returning to Tunisia
Ghannouchi was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment in 1992 for allegedly planning to overthrow the then president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali
, an accusation he has denied.
His allies have gone out of their way to reassure Tunisians that – despite the former president's claims – the politics that they represent are closer to those of Turkey than "Tora Bora", a reference to the Taliban.
Banned for almost 30 years with many key members in exile, members of the mainly moderate Islamic opposition admitted that it must regroup if it is to be relevant.
Dilou, who spent 10 years in prison in the 1990s, said this week: "We were caught off guard by the popular uprising." Activists inside and outside of Tunisia, including Dilou, have suggested in recent days that the party might participate in legislative elections, perhaps in partnership with other secular parties, but it would not run in presidential elections.
The party also plans to ask for formal legal status in Tunisia, something that was denied to them under the Ben Ali regime.
Ghannouchi is no relation of the country's interim leader, Mohammed Ghannouchi, who has promised parliamentary and presidential elections within six months.
Figures closely associated with Ennahda within Tunisia have been vocal in recent days in criticising attempts by former regime figures – including Mohammed Ghannouchi – to form a government of national unity including former members of Ben Ali's RCD party.
Among those who have been visible at rallies has been former Ennadha leader Sadok Chourou, who has joined other demonstrators in Tunis calling for a new government without Ben Ali's former ministers.
While Rachid Ghannouchi is waiting for an amnesty, Moncef Marzouki, another Tunisian opposition leader, has already returned to Tunisia from exile in France and today visited the grave of Muhammad Bouazizi, who set fire to himself in an act of protest and started the wave of unrest that toppled Ben Ali. Unlike Ghannouchi, Marzouki has said he plans to run for president.
At a demonstration in central Tunis today calling for a new government free of any former Ben Ali allies, Hamid Bin Zidane, a school teacher, said Tunisians were "happy to see the exiled leaders" such as Ghannouchi head home. "There must be an amnesty from the government," he said, adding that the west had fuelled false stereotypes of what Islamist politics in Tunisia represented.
© 2016 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.