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2011-02-01 Tunisian Islamic Leader Returns as EU Freezes Ousted President's Assets

February 1, 2011 by admin

Rached Ghannouchi, head of the Islamist party Ennahda, returned to Tunisia after 22 years in exile. In a celebration of their newly won freedom, thousands of supporters welcomed him at Tunis Airport on Sunday. Ennahnda has said it intends to take part in Tunisia's post-revolution elections but Ghannouchi told reporters that fears that compare him to the father of Iran's Islamic Revolution were wrong. He said he is much more moderate in his views “Some Western media portray me like (Ayatollah Ruhollah) Khomeini, but that’s not me.”

In an interview he did with the Financial Times three days after Ben Ali fled Tunisia, while Ghannouchi was still in London, he emphasized the broad nature of the Tunisian Revolution:

Who made this revolution? It is the people who made this revolution.This revolution was not made by an angry, out-of-control mob. There are 250, 000 university graduates who are in fact the basis for this revolution. It is not angry, uneducated people. They were the base of this revolution with their creative ways of using the internet and other media. As to the trade unions, it’s true that their leadership has been subservient (to the regime) but the regional union headquarters were the centre of the protests and they led the revolution.

The lawyers also led the main protest marches and these are important bodies which were later joined by the opposition towards the end. There are still important civil society institutions, lawyers, trade unions, political parties, the representative bodies of unemployed graduates and it is them who (could potentially) support the constitutional council.

Ghannouchi seems to be aware that some people in the United States or Europe will falsely equate Islam with terrorism. At the airport he told supporters "We are not terrorists, and we are against terror like everybody else. We oppose Bin Laden. We are for freedom."

Catholic Online said:

The 69-year-old Ghannouchi gave assurances of Ennahada's respect for democracy and women's rights in a newspaper interview after Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia, bowing to street protests that ended his 23-year rule.

"The government used to always say, to frighten people away, that (the Islamists) will take away the rights of women," he said in the interview. "We all recognize, we accept the personal status code and will not cancel it or refuse it."

Democracy in Tunisia means that all parties and all political movements must partcipate and in that spirit most Tunisians welcomed Ghannouchi's return home from his long exile.

EU Now Willing to Stop Theft of Tunisian Assets

On Monday the European Union agreed to freeze Ben Ali's assets, which are reported to be in the neighborhood of $50 billion USD and reported to reside in many neighborhoods in France and other European counties. As reported by France24:

EU foreign ministers agreed Monday to freeze the assets of former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his wife and associates. The EU is also expected to look at offering better trade terms to Tunisia to help strengthen its economy.

Ben Ali's European assets include hotels, banks, tuna exports, construction, newspapers and pharmaceuticals. Now that Ben Ali has been thrown out of power, the EU is shocked, shocked to learn that the vast wealth they have been keeping for him is the result of the misappropriation of state funds.

Now that the game is up with Ben Ali, Europe and the United States are seeking ways to established relationships with Tunisia on a new basis. Reuthers reports:

EU ministers meeting in Brussels were also expected to look at ways to offer better trade terms to Tunisia to help strengthen the country's economy.

Since Ben Ali's overthrow, the EU has been trying to create a new relationship with a country with which it developed strong trade and political ties during Ben Ali's 23 years in power.

When Ben Ali fled to France they slammed the door in his face. They wouldn't let him land. Ben Ali had every right to be surprised, the French government of Nicolas Sarkozy had backed him to the hilt till this last minute. As Middle East Online reported:

France's ties with Ben Ali's Tunisia went far beyond "non-interference". In 2008, rights groups criticised Sarkozy for praising the regime "for opening up the democratic space."

When rights groups were already reporting police had shot dead dozens of protesters before Ben Ali fell, Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie suggested France could train the force to better maintain order.

A private French supplier's shipment of new equipment for the Tunisian police, including tear gas grenades of the type that killed a French journalist, was halted at Paris airport only hours before Ben Ali fled.

Now they were singing another tune. "Non-interference and support for freedom and democracy are at the heart of our foreign policy," President Nicolas Sarkozy said through a spokesman as they sent Ben Ali scurrying off to Saudi Arabia where he finally found refuge. This caused one Tunisian to Tweet

“What an irony that a guy who banned veils should end up with the Wahhabis.”

The international financial network maintained it's support for Ben Ali till the last minute also. According to the WSJ a few days after Ben Ali left "Moody's Investor Service Inc. downgraded Tunisia's sovereign rating by one notch Wednesday and changed the country's outlook to negative from stable, citing political instability caused by the toppling of the previous government." This will make it harder and more expensive for the new government to borrow money.

It is the job of Moody's to look out for investors not cuddle new governments some might say. Civil and social instability do make for a negative investment environment, so why didn't Moody's lower Tunisia's bond rating when blood was flowing in the streets and the stock exchange was being denied the Internet by hackers? Why did they lower it only after the thorn has been removed and the wound is starting to heal?

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