By Samuel Burke, CNN
The Arab Spring countries of North Africa are struggling to balance their secular and Islamic roots, but the leader of Tunisia’s ruling party thinks he has the answer.
Rached Ghannouchi co-founded the Ennahda party, but only returned from 22 years in exile after Tunisia became the first country of the Arab Spring to oust its leader.
Secular Tunisians and national media have questioned how much sharia law would be enshrined in Tunisia’s new constitution, but Ghannouchi told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday that the problem has already been bypassed.
“There was some dispute about enshrining sharia,” he said, “that’s why we had to push away the controversy and we settled for what was said in the 1959 constitution about Tunisia as an Arab country.”
While Islam has always been the main religion in Tunisia, politics have long been secular.
Ghannouchi said the status quo for dealing with Islam and the constitution is the path for Tunisia and hopes to have an election over the constitution by June of 2013.
Egypt is struggling through its own constitutional process, with mass street protests and clashes, but Tunisia so far has steered clear of similar instability.
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“The situations are different, even though the Egyptian society and the Tunisian society are somewhat similar, and that's why I believe that Egypt will reach the point of harmony.”
He told Amanpour that there will be no sharia or anti-blasphemy laws in the Tunisian constitution.
Rabbi Benjamin Hatab leads Tunisia’s main synagogue and said that Ghannouchi had reached out to the country’s Jewish community. "He declared that the country would not change and that the only difference would be that it would be more democratic than Ben Ali's Tunisia,” the Jewish leader told Ynet.
Women’s rights have been in place for women since the 1960s, and Ghannouchi said there will be a “reconfirmation” of this in the new constitution.
“There is no dispute now between Islamists and secularists about that matter, either,” he said. “We are keen on harmony and constitutions are built on what's agreed upon.”
Earlier this year, a video was posted on YouTube showing Ghannouchi meeting with Salafist leaders; the video went viral amid concerns about his allegiances.
Ghannouchi told Amanpour that he met with them to try to build an inclusive state: one that doesn’t leave more conservative parties out of the spectrum.
“I wanted to tell the Salafists that they must be - they must work under the law because the law will give them all the ability to form political parties, to work in societies, to work in mosques,” he said about the video. “What I wanted to do is to convince them to become part of the legal system, like other countries like us, like leftists or like radical groups in Germany or in Italy and Ireland, which left - which abandoned violence and now work under the law.”
But could Tunisia be nurturing Salafists that could become violent and want an Islamic state?
Ghannouchi has no fear of that happening.
“I'm not worried about that, not because I trust Salafists or any other group that wishes to control the society,” he said. “What I see is that the Tunisian society is a Muslim society, but a moderate one. That's why there is no hope for any radical group to control the Tunisian society, because it's a society which went through a revolution against dictatorship and will not allow any group like that, even in the name of a religion.”
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