PARIS – Tunisia’s Interim President Moncef Marzouki said Wednesday that Tunisia had not fallen into Islamist hands and was pursuing democracy in the wake of its popular uprising, as he addressed France's National Assembly.
"The question I am often asked is 'Has Tunisia fallen into the hands of Islamism? The answer is no, Tunisia has fallen into the hands of democracy," Marzouki said to applause from French lawmakers.
In an address to the French National Assembly, Marzouki compared Tunisia‘s ruling Islamist party Ennahda with Christian Democratic parties.
“In the same way that in the West there are Christian Democrats, there are, and will be, Islamo democrats in the Arab world, of which Ennahda is merely the Tunisian prototype,” he said.
Following the uprising that ousted strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali last year, Tunisia's Ennahda party, a movement inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood, took power with 41 percent of the seats in the National Constituent Assembly.
At a congress on Sunday the party adopted a resolution stressing its "centrist" and "moderate" position.
Marzouki defended his secular centre-left Congress for the Republic party's alliance with Ennahda, insisting it was democratic.
"Ennahda has embraced democracy, some say as a tactic, others like myself say by conviction," he said. "It is the strength of democracy to be able to accommodate and integrate forces that were initially hostile."
Marzouki, who met President Francois Hollande on Tuesday, was the first foreign leader to address the French assembly since 2006, as part of a three-day visit aimed at rebuilding Tunisia's ties with its former colonial master.
Relations were strained by France's slow and confused response to the popular revolt, the first of what became known as the Arab Spring uprisings, but in his speech Marzouki nonetheless expressed "gratitude" to France.
"A fraction of official France supported the dictatorship," he said. "But the majority, the essential part of France... supported us as much as it could and accompanied us as far as possible until the tyrant fell," he said.
The previous governments of presidents Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy fostered close ties with Ben Ali's regime and ministers in Sarkozy's administration sparked anger in Tunisia by failing to immediately back the uprising, the first of the revolts that became known as the Arab Spring.
Marzouki was to travel to the southern port city of Marseille on Thursday to meet local officials and members of the Tunisian community.