The leader of Tunisia’s largest Islamist movement, the Ennahda party, has returned to Tunisia after 22 years of exile in the UK.

Rached Ghannouchi arrived at Carthage airport and was greeted by thousands of supporters. His return has sparked speculation that Islamists will play a major role in Tunisian politics in the future. Tunisia has imposed a secular order since independence from France in 1956.

With protests escalating across the Middle East, especially in Tunisia and Egypt, Ghannouchi says he has no plans to run for the presidency, but will assist the interim government to anchor a democratic system, social justice and put a limit to discrimination against banned groups.

Ghannouchi’s return means that almost all the key players in the opposition are now back in Tunisia. Leaders of leftist factions, such as Najib Chebbi, Mustafa ben Jaafar and Ahmed Ibrahim, who had remained in the country under the regime, have now been offered posts in the interim government by prime minister, Mohammed Ghannouchi. The interim government will now try to retain control until elections are held.

Former president Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali fled Tunisia on 14 January for Saudi Arabia following weeks of escalating protests against his regime (MEED 19:1:11).