TUNIS – Following the electoral victory of Islamists in Tunisia’s first democratic elections, the country’s archbishop is urging the West not to fear the rise of Islamists to the helm of power in the Arab world.
“If they held free and democratic elections in any Arab country at this moment, Islamic inspired parties would win," said the Archbishop of Tunis, Migr Maroun Elias Lahham, reported MISNA news agency.
"This has happened in Tunisia and will probably happen in Egypt, but it should not lead to fears and concerns.”
Islamic-leaning Ennahda party won most votes in last month’s first election in Tunisia since the ouster of president Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali earlier this year.
The election will result in an assembly which will write the country’s new constitution and set the date for presidential elections.
"The vote is laden with symbols for Tunisia,” Lahham said.
“It was the first country to revolt against decades of a dictatorship disguised as democracy or otherwise accepted by the West. Tunisia was also the first country in the so-called Arab Spring to take a process of transition."
Lahham believes that Ennahda won the polls, thanks to its struggle against Ben Ali’s regime as well as to its electoral campaign.
“Members suffered persecution through the years, and the party became the bearer of values felt by all,” he said.
Ennahda is led by Rachid Ghannouchi, forced into exile in Britain for 22 years because of harassment by Ben Ali's police.
Ghannouchi is at pains to stress his party will not enforce any code of morality on Tunisian society, or the millions of Western tourists who holiday on its beaches.
He models his approach on the moderate party of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.
The Archbishop of Tunis opines that Islamists will emerge the biggest winners in any democratic elections in other Arab countries.
“I think that in Egypt, the Islamic parties will also do well in elections... And if one day they vote in Libya, there will probably be the same scenario,” he said.
Egyptians will go to polls on November 28 in their first elections since the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak in February.
The Muslim Brotherhood, long oppressed under Mubarak, is expected to emerge the biggest winner in the election.
"The point is not, however, that an Islamic party governs, but rather what kind of Islam. Tunisian Islam is not Sudanese Islam, it is not Iranian nor is it Egyptian,” Lahham said.
“Probably in Egypt, the situation would be different, but there is something new now that any party or coalition that wins power must remember. The street has shown that it is capable of rebelling against dictatorship and those who fail to respect democracy will likely face the same end. It is this challenge which now faces Tunisia.”
The Archbishop of Tunis advises the Europeans not to fear Islamists.
"Europe must have a new and different approach to the realities that are taking shape in the southern shore of the Mediterranean: just as it has had parties of Christian inspiration, it must not place conditions that compromise governments featuring parties of an Islamic inspiration,” he said.
“Islam can be democratic and Ennahda has been asked to demonstrate that.”