29 Jan 2011

Tunisia democracy: ‘I always believed this would happen’

Before Tunisia’s exiled leader Rachid Ghannouchi returned to his homeland, Channel 4 News reporter Jane Deith visited him in the UK and found a man hopeful of “democracy and justice” at last.

Twenty years ago Rachid Ghannouchi fled Tunisia’s police state for a surburban estate in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire.

Exile has brought him a grandson, Zachharia, and time to write books calling for change in his homeland. Now he is going back to make sure the old regime has really gone.

Mohammed Bouazizi, a 23-year-old grocer, burned himself to death in protest at the confiscation of his vegetable cart. In doing so he inspired a national uprising.

The spot where he doused himself with petrol is still marked with red paint. The local people call it the “place of martyrdom”.

His [Mohammed Bouazizi] burnt body has become a shining candle lighting Tunisian society and societies in the region. Rachid Ghannouchi

Mr Ghannouchi told Channel 4 News: “This young man opened the door to an era of democracy and justice. We are grateful to this young man.

“His burnt body has become a shining candle lighting Tunisian society and societies in the region.”

With the ruling party dissolved, Ghannouchi’s Nahda Party is set to be the largest political force in Tunisia despite an absence of more than two decades from the country.

His return completes the political set of ideas that make up the new ideological map of post-Bin Ali Tunisia.

“I have written repeatedly about the inevitability of this,” he explained.

“It’s true that it happened perhaps more quickly than anyone expected.

“But I always believed that this was the only solution because reform was impossible under the regime.”

Read more: people power in Tunisia