Respected head of Tunisian Islamist group to step down

February 25, 2011
Rachid Ghannouchi

(Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi in Tunis February 4, 2011/Louafi Larbi )

The head of Tunisia’s Ennahda Islamist movement, Rachid Ghannouchi, will step down and be replaced this year, he told Turkey’s state-run news agency in an interview published on Friday. Ghannouchi, a respected Muslim scholar who has spoken in favour of women’s rights and democracy, returned to Tunisia from two decades in exile following last month’s overthrow of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

His planned departure calls into question the future leadership of Ennahda, which is expected to be a significant political force in forthcoming elections in the predominantly Muslim North African state. Analysts have said any moves to sideline Ennahda, which is likened to Turkey’s ruling AK Party, which emerged from a series of Islamist parties, could backfire by radicalising the group and encouraging militants seeking a foothold in the country.

“Ghannouchi … said that he would soon quit as the leader of Ennahda, as he did not want to assume any political duties in any section of the government,” according to the report from Turkey’s Anatolian news agency. “He said the Ennahda movement would elect its new leader at a congress to be held this year.”

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