Correspondents spoke again to Rashed Ghannouchi, leader  of the Ennahda Movement, as his party prepares for its 10th conference, a crucial turning point in the movement’s history and ideological identity.

Chairman Rashed Ghannouchi, would you please give us an update on Ennahda’s preparations for its 10th conference?

Correspondents spoke again to Rashed Ghannouchi, leader  of the Ennahda Movement, as his party prepares for its 10th conference, a crucial turning point in the movement’s history and ideological identity.

Chairman Rashed Ghannouchi, would you please give us an update on Ennahda’s preparations for its 10th conference?

Preparations are in full swing. We held in-depth dialogues with tens of thousands of members at several levels, either through over 350 local, regional and sectorial conferences or the various committees of the Shura Council. We continue to hold dialogues with the movement’s members and friends, as well as many independent Tunisian competent individuals and experts on political, economic and anti-terrorism approaches in addition to other subjects.

What is the purpose of the expansion of these discussions? Is it to give the movement a ‘Tunisian’ nature?

We do hope that the conference will be a turning point in our evolutionary path towards further modernization. We hope it will take us closer to our Tunisian reality. These discussions, additionally, aim to crystalize our visions of the movement and country’s future. Through our openness to national competencies, we hope to promote our contribution to stabilizing the country, enhancing democracy and solving economic as well as social problems.

Is it true that the future vision of the movement is going to separate between preaching and political affairs?

Yes. Ennahda movement is heading toward specialization in political affairs, leaving other cultural, social and educational issues, which were an important part of the movement’s identity since its inception to civil society.

This shift is part of a natural evolution path, which was hindered by dictatorship in the past four decades. The revolution is an opportunity for us to resume our path and review, as well as assess, our performance and renew our visions in light of our experiences and interaction with reality.

Will the name of the party or some structures, such as the Shura Council that gives the movement a religious nature, be changed?

Changing the name of the movement and the Shura Council to the National Council, for example, is subject to the General National Conference resolutions. Whatever the name, we are moving towards establishing a structural system with separate authorities, to bring democracy within the party.

One of the authorities is based on a legislative institution that sets the general policies of the party and monitors and holds the executive leadership accountable. There are different arguments about executive leadership, shall the president be elected directly by the party members, by the GNC as is the case, or by the Shura Council? Should the party’s president choose his executive team based on his vision and program or the Shura Council or GNC elect members of the Executive Office? This is a summary of the structural options to be decided by the GNC.

Will you review the founding document of the movement which provided for fundamentalist reference?

The 10th conference is a foundational conference and will re-formulate many concepts and ideas within the Ennahda movement. During the last two years, we discussed the path of the movement’s development and part of the discussions began before the revolution, inside the country and abroad. Ideological vision was reviewed and a new one was provided to conferees to be discussed and if approved, it will become the reference of the party.

What are the foundations of the new ideological vision?

This vision is based on the Tunisian Constitution’s preamble, approved by 94% of the Constituent Assembly, which stipulates: “Our people’s commitment to the teachings of Islam, to their spirit of openness and tolerance.” The vision is that Ennahda Movement is a democratic Islamic party aimed at achieving a comprehensive national reform that advances the country at political, social, economic and cultural levels.

Does this not only mean that the movement will maintain the same ideological reference?

This ideological reference is not a new fad in contemporary democracies; there are many ancient democratic parties of religious reference including the Christian Democratic Party in Germany and several other European countries.

Having a religious reference does not mean that our party monopolizes it or that it is a religious party. Ennahda considers itself a democratic civilian party of a modernist Islamic reference.

The ideological reference we will present to the GNC contains a value system including freedom, dignity, work, justice, tolerance, consultation, solidarity, reform and honesty, which are all Islamic and humane values and, at the same time, can be a common ground for a wide proportion of the Tunisian people.

You will maintain the religious reference to build a democratic civil state while the ambition of your base was to establish an Islamic state. How will you convince them of this change?

Our struggle for a democratic civil state for Muslim people is not new. Freedom and democracy has been a basic demand since the founding of the movement in 1981. We have struggled for this demand and made enormous sacrifices to build a state of citizenship, freedom and justice.

Ennahda always stressed that the political regime we seek to is a civil, democratic regime. We have agreed on these principles with other opposition parties in the October 18 Movement, which was launched in 2005 and culminated in great agreements in 2007, paving the way for the revolution that achieved part of this demand, i.e. freedoms. We must now seek to achieve the other part – building a state of justice for all citizens free of injustice and authoritarianism.

In your conference, will you clarify your relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Turkey?

Ennahda is wholeheartedly a Tunisian movement and its decisions are independent and issued by democratically elected institutions that operate under Tunisian law. We share some ideas with some moderate Islamic movements. However, we consider Ennahda as a leading movement in an innovative school, which is the descendant of the 19th century Tunisia reform school led by Khairuddin Tunisi and Tahar Ben Achour.

We build on this school and its achievements and interact with our age, presenting interpretations that combine Islam and democracy and Islam and modernity.

What is the nature of your relationship with ‘Fajr Libya’? How does your communication with different political spectrums in Libya look?

Our relationships in Libya are extended to all moderate political forces both in Tripoli and the east, as well as many Libyan tribal and civil society leaders. We always invited all our Libyan brothers to put the public interest above private interests and the country’s interests above the interests of political parties and groups, similar to what happened in Tunisia.

We believe that the Tunisian national interest requires building relations with all Libyan parties without interfering in Libyan internal affairs. We call to move away from ideological calculations in regard to foreign affairs and the interests of the homeland.

You are accused of supporting some armed factions affiliated with the Syrian opposition including brigades classified as terrorist organizations. What is your position on those accusations?

We did not support one faction or another in the Syrian crisis and do not have a direct relationship with this file. However, we support the Syrian people’s right to freedom and dignity and to choose the ruler away from the rule of the individual, family or sect.

The Syrian people are authentic and honorable and worth a democratic regime, but, unfortunately, they are stuck between the oppression of the sectarian regime on the one hand and barbarism and extremism 0f ISIS on the other in addition to the regional and international calculations. We ask God to grant victory to the Syrian people and success in establishing a democratic regime.