Tunisia Tries to Prevent Jihadist Infiltration of Syria

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With an estimated 800 Tunisian nationals fighting alongside the opposition in Syria, Tunisia's president announced that 4,500 nationals have been banned from travel in an attempt to curb the trend.

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki revealed that authorities have banned around 4,500 individuals from traveling on suspicion of their intending to head to Syria and participate in the fighting. Marzouki noted that in this regard the authorities are cooperating with many countries, including Turkey and Libya.

In an interview with Al-Hayat on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, Marzouki put the number of Tunisians in Syria at around 800. He voiced his concern about their return because, as he said, “We will have to fight back when they fight us.”

Marzouki called on Iran to pressure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to work toward a political solution. “Everyone knows that Assad cannot remain the president of Syria,” Marzouki added.

Marzouki accused a regional network funded by individuals affiliated with Ansar al-Sharia of carrying out assassinations in Tunisia, saying that its members were well known by Tunisian security agencies. He noted that this group “aims to ruin the democratic experiment in Tunisia. This experiment, however, will succeed against their will.” Marzouki expected the constitution to be finalized in two months and elections to be held next spring.

He attributed the rise of extreme Islamism in his country to the fact that, for decades, “moderate Islam and the Ennahda movement were banned from political activity,” which led “to a vacuum that was filled by extremists.” Marzouki reiterated that Tunisia is still a secular society, which is evidenced by the fact that the draft constitution “does not refer to Sharia and stipulates absolute equality between men and women.”

Marzouki denied what has been said about Ennahda ruling Tunisia because “the troika — comprising three secular parties — is ruling and consensually taking decisions.” He said that the elections would express the people’s will, saying, “Let us refer to the people and follow their will.” He described popular demonstrations as being a democratic manifestation.

Marzouki refused to consider Ennahda an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood, describing it instead as a “Tunisian Islamic party and not an Islamic Tunisian party.” He reiterated that “the Tunisian model is different from that of Egypt” when it comes to the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, noting that the latter organization “has committed many mistakes, but which still do not justify what was inflicted on [its members]. They should only be held accountable for their politics.”

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