By Roua Khlifi and Adam Le Nevez
A secretly recorded video has emerged in which Ennahdha leader Rached Ghannouchi talks candidly with members of Islamic associations about his long-term strategy to consolidate power in Tunisia.
Speaking in a private conversation with an unknown number of people, Ghannouchi discusses the conflict between Islamists and secularists in Tunisia, stating that Ennahdah’s victory was a surprise to secularists.
“The secularists didn’t expect Ennahdha to win. El Beji [the interim Prime Minister] kept saying they won’t win, even if they win, they won’t get more than 20% of the votes. The surprise was that, despite the unfair electoral law, Ennahdha won the elections. The people want this religion.”
During the seven minute video, the leader of Ennahdha cautions against political opportunism and argues that Islamists need to consolidate their political achievements or risk losing them.
“Do not rush things. I tell the Salafist youth we all went through the same and we suffered. Now you want to have a TV, radio, schools, and invite the preachers. Why are you rushing things?” he asks.
“We should present a reassuring discourse to people, and instruct them to protect our achievements. We should spread our schools, protect the country with associations,” the Ennahdha leader says.
Ghannouchi argues that radical change could backfire on them, as it did for Algerian Islamists in the 1990s.
“Do you think that what we achieved cannot be taken away from us? This is what we thought when we were Algeria in the 90s. We thought that Algeria had reached the goal and there was no turning back. It turns out we misjudged the situation and we went backwards. The mosques went back under the control of the secularists and Islamists were persecuted.”
Although Ennahdha won 40% of votes in the October 2011 election, Ghannouchi claims in the video that secularists are still in control of large parts of society.
“Now the secular groups, though they did not gain a majority, still control media, the administration and the economy. The administration is in their hands. We are on the head of the administration but all the bases are under their power. Even the governors are under their control.”
“The Army is in their hands. We cannot guarantee the police and the army,” he continues.
The video was likely recorded in February or March 2012, at a time when a public debate was occurring over whether reference to Sharia law should be included in the Tunisian constitution which is currently being drafted. In April 2012 Ennahdha announced that they would not be advocating the inclusion of Sharia law in the constitution.
“Will it benefit Islam if we add Sharia to the constitution? On the surface, Tunisians are Muslims. However, a group of Tunisians, the secular groups who are in charge, are afraid of Sharia. Is there a difference between Islam and Sharia? It is the same thing with a different name. Sharia, in its true sense, is the practices, and the beliefs. Even for those who demand to include Sharia in the constitution, I ask them if they want to apply the Sharia laws but they say they don’t want that. They want the text to be included in the constitution in order to limit the state especially that the previous text didn’t limit the power of the state. This is a superficial. An Islamist who clings to the text is as superficial as the secular who rejects the Sharia text and accepts Islam,” explained Ghanouchi.
When contacted by Tunisia Live this morning, Ennahdha spokesperson Zoubair Chehodi, said that the video dates back to March.
“We are aware of the existence of the video. It is an old issue. It goes back to the time when the country was debating the inclusion of Sharia in the constitution. During a meeting with a group of preachers and representatives of Islamic associations, Rached Ghannouchi discussed some points regarding the situation,” said Chehodi.
After speaking with Tunisia Live, Ennahdha later released a statement on their website. While it did not deny the authenticity of the video, it claimed that some passages were taken out of context.
“What Ghanouchi said about the police not being guaranteed came in the context of talking about how governmental institutions still contain corrupted and RCD related minorities which are obstructing the efforts to build national security,” the statement said.
The video appears to be edited with cuts at 1m52s and 5m45s. One version of the video, posted on the Youtube channel of Kaddour Ayari is preceded by a discourse from a person who warns viewers about the danger of Islamism.
A second 9-minute video posted on Youtube in April 2012 appears to come from the same meeting. In it Ghannouchi can be heard discussing how Salafists should become engaged in community outreach.
“You have the opportunity to change things gradually. You have the opportunity to open schools. Why are you still insisting on Sharia when you can open a school? We should open Koranic school and reopen the mosque of El-Zaytouna”.
In the video Ghannouchi also discusses differences between different Islamist movements in Tunisia.
“We always say Salafist are our sons and daughters, the children of this country and that we should always communicate with them.”
“We don’t disagree on religion, but we disagree on the way to apply it”, he says.
Both videos, in Tunisian Dialect, can be viewed here: