After Arab Spring: Tunisian party separates Islam from politics

Discussion in 'Politics, Religion, Social Issues' started by LizKat, Aug 31, 2016.

  1. LizKat macrumors 601


    Aug 5, 2004
    Catskill Mountains
    Ennahda, a political party in Tunisa that was once Islamist in opposition to the secular dicatorships of the RCD party (under Bourguiba and then under Ben Ali), has shifted gears to focus on economics and democratic politics now that the country guarantees a right to worship as desired.


    Ennahda explains its separation of preaching from politics as a natural evolution. With the freedom of religion restored and Tunisians’ Islamic identity no longer under threat, the movement says it can now shift its focus to economic and political causes.

    But it is more than that.

    Following the model of Christian Democrats in Europe, Ennahda has transformed from an Islamist party to a center-right political party that aims to appeal to all Tunisians. Party insiders say the move should protect it from rivals accusing it of attempting to Islamicize society, attempting to build a caliphate, or regulating citizens’ private lives – accusations which have hurt its standing in the past.

    Could Ennahda be a model for other Islamist groups?

    Perhaps. But not until other Middle Eastern countries match Tunisia’s open society, Ennahda leaders suggest.

    “In Tunisia, we were fortunate not to have an army that interferes in politics, deep security state to over-rule the people’s democratic choice, or foreign interference,” says Laarayedh, the former prime minister. “Where can you find these qualities elsewhere in the Arab world?”

    Experts point to another important factor in Ennahda’s transformation: a vocal, but nonviolent, opposition. Hypervigilant leftists and seculars encouraged Ennahda to make more compromises and move to the center without clashing, leading to cooperation. In other Arab states of one-party autocracies and monarchies, there simply is not the political atmosphere to allow such interaction.

    “There was a movement strong enough to oblige Ennahda to step back and dial down its rhetoric, but not destroy it,” says Youssef Cherif, a Tunis-based political analyst.

    And another excerpt:

    Since Tunisia’s Arab Spring in 2011, the party has been faced with decisions to empower itself or the political system it purported to want to build. And consistently, it has chosen to strengthen Tunisian democracy, seeing in its own short-term losses the seeds of long-term gains for itself and the nation.

    At a time when the United States has led Western nations in attempts at “nation-building” in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, it is a reminder of the need for democratic impulses from within.

    “We learned that power is not only gained through the ballot box, but through trust – and we had to earn that trust first,” says Ali Laarayadh, who served as the first post-Arab Spring interior minister, and later prime minister.

    “Even if we had the votes, we could not govern alone.”

    It is a statement deeply colored by Tunisia’s history.

    For more than a half century after independence in 1956, governing alone is precisely what was done by the Constitutional Democratic Rally party (known by its French acronym RCD). Under Habib Bourguiba and then his successor, Zine el Abedine Ben Ali, the secular RCD brooked no opposition.

    That was how Ennahda began – as a group of like-minded young professionals under the name of the Islamic Tendency. Islam, they argued, should be a guiding force in governance and economic equality.

    When Mr. Ben Ali allowed for parliamentary elections in 1989, candidates from Islamic Tendency, now renamed Ennahda, or “renaissance,” nabbed over 10 percent of seats. Ben Ali responded by putting 25,000 members in jail and driving hundreds into exile abroad.

    That, say members, is when Ennahda’s unique journey really began.

    Rather than going to Saudi Arabia or conservative Gulf countries, many Ennahda leaders went into exile in the West. Cofounder Rached Ghannouchi went to Britain, where he would reside for more than two decades, while others went to France.

    While the Muslim Brotherhood merged its thinking with the ultraconservative Wahhabi doctrine of Gulf states, Ennahda leaders’ experience was radically different.

    They began to blend their Islamist vision with the core tenets of nationalism, pluralism, and European-style parliamentary democracy. They saw firsthand the central role of cooperation and coalition building by center-right and leftist movements.

    “In our platform, we did not import a foreign model, but learned from the lessons of our neighbors in the region and particularly those in Europe,” says Abdulhamid Jalassi, Ennahda's vice president for strategic planning.

    In a series of writings published in Beirut, Lebanon --and reissued in Tunisia after the 2011 revolution-– Mr. Ghannouchi carefully outlined the basis for a modern, democratic Islamic movement. He cited Quranic verses and hadiths, or sayings attributed to the prophet, to support traditionally Western-associated concepts, such as human rights in Islam, civil society in Islam, and the concept of equality in Islamic law and United Nations conventions.

    Within Tunisia, Ennahda’s leaders worked covertly within trade unions and university campuses. The experience not only kept Ennahda close to the pulse of Tunisia, but it also led to interaction with the country’s other political movements, such as leftists, seculars, and nationalists.

    These ties shaped Ennahda upon its return to the public sphere after Ben Ali’s ouster in 2011. In that year’s elections, Ennahda won 37 percent of the vote. The next closest party won less than 9 percent.

    But instead of dominating Tunisia’s post-revolution politics, Ennahda reached out to its rivals to cooperate – and to compromise.

    So perhaps as Tunisia works to improve both the inclusiveness of democracy and better economic conditions for its citizens, some who had fled Africa for Europe during the tumult of Arab Spring will elect to return and help rebuild their homeland.

    The idea could be contagious over time, especially as Arabs now in self-exile to Europe contemplate Tunisia's achievements and the possibility of making change through cooperation and compromise leveraged by use of the ballot box back home.

    Even a rubber stamp parliament may eventually afford openings not anticipated by whichever elite group originally (and grudgingly) established voting, or --as in Saudi Arabia now-- letting women hold minor posts in town councils, as a sop to quell popular discontent. After all, in the USA at the inception of our constitution, there was absolutely no intent for women or people of color to be able to change its governance.

    Tunisia's society may be more open to change than some other Arab countries, but it was the emigration to Europe that resulted in sparking plans for a more diverse democracy in Tunisia, after the self-exiled members of the Ennahda party returned with some lessons learned about compromise and cooperation.

    At this time Europe hosts immigrants from a number of African and Middle Eastern countries. Each immigrant who settles in, who finds work and community, is also capable of absorbing what a democracy offers versus what the political options were back home.

    It's pretty normal for people to start with what they have and try to fix it up. So I'm pretty sure some guy from the Middle East or North Africa was sitting in a kitchen in Germany or Sweden over coffee last night and thinking about things back home. Thinking whether back home two rival parties can set aside differences some time and together make a broader appeal and grab another couple seats in a rubber stamp parliament. Meanwhile the clerics and kings now running the tables back home grow older...
  2. obeygiant macrumors 68040


    Jan 14, 2002
    totally cool
  3. aaronvan, Aug 31, 2016
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2016

    aaronvan Suspended


    Dec 21, 2011
    República Cascadia
    Sounds good but since Islam is essentially a political and a religious construct that is a tall order. More power to him, though.
  4. ucfgrad93 macrumors P6


    Aug 17, 2007
  5. Mac'nCheese macrumors 68040


    Feb 9, 2010
    winter is coming
  6. Scepticalscribe Contributor


    Jul 29, 2008
    The Far Horizon
    Islam is not a monolith, and Tunisia has long had a somewhat more tolerant take on how certain features of cultural (and other) norms can be interpreted and applied to their society.

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