Sunday, November 13, 2011

Will Political Moderate Islam Take The Lead in Post-Elections Tunisia? - Tunisia Live

 For fifty years and through two authoritarian regimes, Tunisian Islamists lived in repression. Both presidents tried to suppress political Islamism to gain the trust and support of Western forces. They also promoted secularism in Tunisia by pushing new laws and regulations to separate religion and state. After the collapse of Ben Ali’s regime following the popular uprising in Tunisia last year, Islamist forces have rediscovered the freedom to be more active on the public political stage. Ennahda, the Tunisian Islamist party, was granted the license to legally organize and operate in March 2011. Later, the party won a plurality – 89 seats -in the Constituent Assembly elections.

The party derives its support from its religious affiliation, Islam, which is the religion of the majority of Tunisians. Ennahda promotes an image of Islam that protects individual freedoms and promotes active citizenship. To attract more support, Ennahda even promises to not meddle with a strong Tunisian point of pride in the Arab Muslim region: the personal status code. The party promises to not amend the code and to firmly protect women’s rights. Rached Ghannouchi, the party’s leader, declared on several occasions, “We will not introduce polygamy.” Ghannouchi also claimed that “Ennahda will not ban alcohol or bikinis.”

On a local radio, Express FM, Samir Atig, one of the most prominent figures within the Ennahda Executive Bureau, reaffirmed Ennahda’s commitment to present itself as a political party. “Ennahda is not a religious party, even if its point of reference is Islam.”

Ennahda is still trying to convince the Tunisian people that it will only implement modern interpretations of Islam to improve both the political and economic situations in Tunisia. Yet, only a few days earlier, one of their female candidates labeled single mothers in Tunisia as a “disgrace” to the nation. Her comments regarding the situation of these mothers upset many Tunisian people, who expressed their anger through interactions on Facebook and other social networks.

Critics cite examples such as the above as evidence of the party’s double discourse, as they do not match Ennahda’s promises to protect the rights of all citizens and to not discriminate against them for religious reasons.

In the meantime, another more fundamentalist party, Ettahrir, is looking at obtaining a visa and being lawfully recognized in the Tunisian political arena.

Both parties, Ennahda and Ettahrir, originally founded by Islamist leaders, existed even before Ben Ali took power in 1987. Nowadays, they differ in the policy they’re using to cast people’s support, but also in their views on religious, political and social issues.

Ettahrir stands for a more radical interpretation of Islam. The party refutes democracy as a model for governance, and their ideology is closer to older and more traditional models such as that of caliphate.

The party argues that Islam and Sharia incorporate all the “modern” values that Tunisians seek, such as social justice, the abolition of corruption and the regulation of social and economic life, but as applied 14 centuries ago, explains Abdelmajid Hbibi to Express FM.

Ettahrir’s executive bureau president says that “positioning Islam between radical and moderate is meaningless because Allah’s words are clear and direct.”

Ennahda, who are determined to maintain their point of view, replied that applying a 14-century-old Islam to a modern Tunisian society does not make sense. Ennahda representatives have largely expressed the party’s commitment to protect Tunisia’s long ruling laws in regards to civil and women’s rights, thus reassuring both local and international communities. It is in fact partly thanks to its moderate discourse that the party managed to cast so many votes in the lastest elections.

Yet, the party is still the subject of much controversy. A recent article published by Lebanese news outlet “The Daily Star” actually brings up controversial details concerning the party’s leader Rached Ghannouchi.  The article, titled “Ennahda’s rise is good cause for alarm,” portrays Ghannouchi as pro-radical.

It seems many remain to be convinced as to Ennahda’s legitimacy to present itself as a moderate Islamic political party.

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