Tunisia at the Crossroads: An Interview with Rached al-Ghannouchi #Tn

As social justice discussions increase in the global village–be it the Catholic Church, among labor unions, or citizens of “Arab Spring” countries—the language cuts across politics, religion and economics.  We welcome the overlap as much as we welcome the interview below…

PITAPOLICY veers away from religious discussion on the blog.  But, not all political and economic philosophies (or philosophers) are set in a purely secular domain.   Look at the Quaker movement in the U.S.:  a religious organization of individuals who vocalize pacifism.  Their religious belief influences their political voice against armed conflict.   Look at St. Augustine, who was a theologian and philosopher that reconceptualized the role of the Catholic church as the Western Holy Roman Empire disintegrated.  Recently, renowned Christian divinity scholar at the University of Chicago, Jean Bethke Elshtain, challenged political and social systems by introducing God into the debate.  A practicing Christian, Elshtain believed that human participation, in political systems, boils down to power relations–of all kinds.  There are power relations between individuals and their conscious (spiritually or emotionally); between their higher authorities (earthly)–and sometimes these may be the same, depending on interpretation. 

Similarly, such a hybrid of political-religious thought–dare we say social consciousness–exists in other parts of our global village.  Today, the current Pope and Islamic philosopher, Tariq Ramadan, consistently share observations on social and economic responsibilities of individuals and institutions.

In December 2013, PITAPAL, Dr. Noureddine Jebnoun of Georgetown University, interviewed Tunisian political and religious thought leader of the Ennahda Party, Sheikh Rached al-Ghannounchi.  Below is the transcribed conversation between Dr. Jebnoun and Dr. al-Ghannouchi.  The exclusive interview for the Al-Waleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, lasted SIX hours and covered economics, politics, and an interpretation of religious doctrine. Director for the ACMCU, Dr. John Esposito, shares his remarks in the preface and specifies Sheikh al-Ghannouchi’s role as a “creative reformer”.

PITAPOLICY appreciated getting  the political-religious philosopher’s point of view on ideas of pluralism and social justice were refined during exile, perhaps, because of the exile experience.  For example, al-Ghannouchi explored with others in the Tunisian diaspora, and beyond, on how political participation for individuals, associations, and parties may form.  

Al-Ghannouchi returned to his native Tunisia after being exiled throughout the Ben Ali regime. He was and remains the leader of Tunisia’s first party to rule since its 2011 revolution.  Since November 2013, Ennahda stepped down in a power sharing agreement.  PITAPOLICY Founder, Mehrunisa Qayyum, had difficulty understanding in only one portion.  This was Sheikh G’s emphasis on the economic relationship between Tunisia, the region, and the EU.  Qayyum wasn’t clear if he was arguing that these three areas are interdependent, thereby resulting in an “interrelationship” that cannot be measured by the World Bank/IMF economic indicators. Is it because there’s no aggregate indicator that represents the European fiscal crisis’s intermediary impact on Tunisia’s tourism sector, and larger economic sphere?  In Qayyum’s humble view, she thinks that Sheikh al-Ghannouchi intended to remain vague since he didn’t tie this into a current Tunisian problem: its increased regional smuggling. 

Click here for interview, transcribed from Arabic into English by Dr. Jebnoun.


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