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Tunisia: Ennahda Islamist Party Promises Open Society

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TUNISIA ISLAMIST PARTY
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TUNIS, Tunisia — The new Tunisia will welcome people of all faiths and carry on the tradition of moderation for which it has always been known, the leader of the Islamist party that won the country's first free elections promised Thursday.

Secretary-General Hammadi Jebali's pledge was aimed at countering concerns voiced both in Tunisia and abroad that the Ennahdha party might put the country on a path of extremism.

Delivered at a tourism industry meeting, it was also clearly aimed at reassuring travelers, who have been hesitant to return to post-revolution Tunisia. Tourist revenue has fallen more than 30 percent so far this year.

The success – or failure – of the Tunisian experiment is being closely watched since the country set off a rash of uprisings in the Middle East when it ousted longtime ruler, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, in January.

Ennahdha won recent elections for an assembly that will write a new constitution. Jebali is expected to eventually become prime minister.

While Ennahdha has said it wants Islamic law to be the source of the country's legislation, it has vowed to protect personal freedoms and tolerance.

"Tunisia is a society of moderation, it's the Tunisian nature," Jebali said. "There will be no marginalization nor exclusion of Muslims, of Jews, of Christians or of atheists."

Not everyone is convinced. Hundreds of women have demonstrated recently in the wake of an attack on female teachers at a university by students who belong to the ultraconservative movement known as Salafists. The Salafists are seeking to pressure greater religious observance in society.

Some in the West have welcomed the successful election, but quickly cautioned the party not to roll back rights.