More than 1,000 people at the main airport in Tunis greeted the arrival of Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi, the leading Islamist leader who had been living abroad in exile since 1989, in the wake of the ouster of President Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali earlier this month.

Ghannouchi, 69, said his Ennahda party will continue to support the popular uprising that uprooted Ben Ali.

Our role will be to participate in realising the goals of this peaceful revolution: to anchor a democratic system, social justice and to put a limit to discrimination against banned groups, Ghannouchi told Reuters a day prior his return.

The dictator has fallen and I want to be in the country.”

Since the ex-president’s removal, an interim government has been put in place which recently promised to ease media restrictions, provide amnesty to political prisoners and permit banned political parties to register.

However, not all the Tunisians at the airport welcomed Ghannouchi.

According to Reuters, secularists sported placards reading: No Islamism, no theocracy, no Sharia and no stupidity!

Ghannouchi was forced out of Tunisia in 1989 by Ben-Ali himself, as his Ennahda party represented the most powerful opposition to the ex-president’s rule. Ghannouchi has been living in exile in London ever since.

It is not clear how much Tunisia’s Islamists have participated in the unrest that toppled Ben-Ali, or of Ghannouchi can restore the Ennahda’s prominence. Nonetheless, Ennahda officials noted they will take part in parliamentary elections, which the new interim regime has vowed to hold.
Ghannouchi has indicated he will not see public office.

Ennahda, founded in 1981, is viewed as a moderate Islamist movement, somewhat akin to the ruling AK party in Turkey.

Tunisia has been a secular state since it gained independence from France in 1956.