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Rached Ghannouchi

Scholar, Politician

Ghannouchi is a famous Islamic scholar and one of Tunisia’s most powerful leaders during the post-revolution transition era. In November of this year, he was chosen Speaker of the Parliament. Ghannouchi has won several international awards for his contributions to Tunisia’s democratic transition. He was named one of Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Thinkers in 2011.

Ghannouchi was born in the Tunisian governorate of Gabes, just outside El Hamma. There were no power or paved roads in his village. His father was a poor farmer who had several children, one of whom was Rached. His family spent every day in the fields and only ate meat a few times a year. To augment their income once the ground season finished, the family made baskets out of palm leaves. Due to financial assistance from an elder sibling, Rached was able to attend a local branch of the traditional Arabic-language Zaytouna school.

In 1962, he graduated from the University of Ez-Zitouna with a certificate of attainment, which is equivalent to a Baccalauréat (Zaytouna). On 1964, he enrolled in Cairo University’s agricultural school, but after the expulsion of Tunisians from Egypt, he moved to Syria. He earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Damascus in 1968. Ghannouchi also travelled and worked as a grape picker and dishwasher in Europe during his twenties.

In the 1970s, Ghannouchi co-founded The Ennahda Movement (‘Renaissance,’) and was imprisoned multiple times before being exiled. The Ennahda is a political party centred on Islamic beliefs, similar to European Christian Democratic parties. It is a proponent of multi-party democracy. He was awarded the Chatham House Prize in 2012 for “successful compromises each reached throughout Tunisia’s democratic transition,” and the Jamnalal Bajaj Award in 2016 for “promoting Gandhian ideas outside India.”

Ghannouchi returned to Tunisia in January 2011 after a 20-year exile following the overthrow of President Ben Ali. In the national elections of October 2011, he led the Ennahda (Renaissance) Party to victory. Ghannouchi resigned from the administration in 2014, handing over authority to a technocratic government. Ennahda finished second to the Nidaa Tounes party in elections later that year, without Ghannouchi as its leader. The 2019 elections resulted in a severely fractious parliament, with the government falling just five months after taking office. In July 2020, Ghannouchi, who was elected speaker of parliament, won a vote of confidence by a narrow margin.

According to Ghannouchi, the Arab region’s prevalent terrorism is a result of corruption in the economic, social, and political spheres. He is well aware of the bloodshed in Algeria’s neighbouring country and is determined to avoid having just binary alternatives for identity. He also believes that those who seek to combat extremism should do it in moderation, as Tunisia has done.

Ghannouchi and Tunisian political leader Moncef Marzouki earned the Chatham House Prize in 2012 for their contributions to Tunisia’s democratic transition. Ghannouchi and Tunisian President Béji Caïd Essebsi received the Founder’s Award from the International Crisis Group in 2015 for their work in peacebuilding.

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