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Islamist leader Rachid Ghannouchi returns to Tunisia. What's his next move?

Moderate Islamist leader Rachid Ghannouchi returned to Tunisia from exile Sunday, insisting that he's a democratic Islamist leader and that he will not run for office.

By Correspondent / January 30, 2011

Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi, head of the Ennahda movement, talks to supporters upon his arrival in Tunis, Sunday. Thousands of Tunisians turned out to welcome home the Islamist leader whose return from 22 years of exile marks a powerful symbol of the change that has swept the country this month.

Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters


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Rachid Ghannouchi says that he will not run for office, though his movement will enter democratic politics.

In the aftermath of the protests that toppled Tunisian President Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali and sparked upheaval across the Arab world, Tunisia's foremost Islamist leader returned to his homeland on Sunday after 22 years of exile.

Reuters reports that Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the the Islamist movement Ennahda, flew from London to Tunisia Sunday, setting foot in his homeland for the first time since 1989, when Mr. Ben Ali exiled him. Mr. Ghannouchi said he and Ennahda plan to help build Tunisia's new democracy.

"Our role will be to participate in realising the goals of this peaceful revolution: to anchor a democratic system, social justice and to put a limit to discrimination against banned groups," Ghannouchi told Reuters a day before his return.

"The dictator has fallen and I want to be in the country," he said.

Ghannouchi was exiled by Ben Ali in 1989, two years after Ben Ali seized power. Ennahda, which experts call a moderate Islamist group, was the strongest opposition group at the time of Ghannouchi's exile, but did not play a significant role in the protests this month that led to Ben Ali's ouster.

Women leaders protest Ghannouchi's return

Concern about Ghannouchi's then-pending return sparked protests by Tunisian women Saturday, reports Agence France-Presse. Hundreds of women, including "actresses, university lecturers, and human rights campaigners," took to the streets in Tunis to show their resolve to maintain the well-established rights of women in the country.

"We want to send an important message to the Islamists, especially those from the Ennahdha movement -- that we are not ready to pull back on or abandon our rights," said Sabah Mahmoudi, a university lecturer, told AFP.


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