News / Africa

Some Tunisians Concerned About Ruling Islamist Party's Aims

Rachid Ghannouchi (R), leader of the Islamist Ennahda party, speaks with his secretary-general Hamadi Jbeli (L) during a news conference in Tunis, October 28, 2011
Rachid Ghannouchi (R), leader of the Islamist Ennahda party, speaks with his secretary-general Hamadi Jbeli (L) during a news conference in Tunis, October 28, 2011
Lisa Bryant

After winning a little more than 40 percent of the seats in Tunisia's new Constituent Assembly, the moderate Islamist Ennahda party is in talks with secular rivals about forming a coalition government. Despite Ennahda's inclusive rhetoric, some fear it may roll back Tunisia's secular, pro-western policies. Protests erupted against Ennahda on Friday.

At political rallies, elegant, articulate - and bareheaded - Souad Abderrahim presents the softer face of Ennahda. The Islamist party's victory in Tunisian elections gives her a seat in the new Constituent Assembly.

This is the first time the 47-year-old pharmacist and mother of two has entered politics.

At her spacious home in the Tunis suburb of Manouba, Abderrahim explains why.

She says she joined Ennahda to counter false perceptions that it was rigid and backward.

Islamist Leaders Say Party is Moderate

The party promotes moderation and diversity, and hails Turkey as its model. Spokeswoman Yusra Ghannouchi, the daughter of Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi, says Ennahda will not only maintain but increase women's rights, including the right not to wear a veil.

"This is the not the state's business to impose any particular type of dress on women. This is absolutely a matter of personal choice," she said.

Fear of Political Islam

But some fear the party will stir the rise of political Islam. In neighboring Libya, leaders are pushing for Sharia law. Tunisia's other neighbor, Algeria, battled a bloody Islamist insurgency in the 1990s.

Islamist protesters clashed with police over two controversial movies aired in Tunisia this year. Ennahda condemned the violence.

But fresh protests erupted against Ennahda on Friday. Media say security forces fired shots into the air and tear gas at demonstrators who tried to raid the Ennahda party's headquarters.

Prominent rights activist Khadija Cherif believes the next battle here will be over the considerable rights of Tunisian women - including the right not to veil.

Cherif does not believe Ennahda will fight for women's rights as it claims. But she doesn't believe it can roll back their gains.

Eric Goldstein, regional deputy director for Human Rights Watch, says Ennahda offers mixed messages.

"The leaders of the party have...been reassuring to all Tunisians. No, we're not going to make women wear the veil. No we're not going to ban alcohol. We want to achieve our goals only through democracy. What's making some people anxious is the discourse of some of the mid-ranking members of the party, some of the preachers who preach in a really intolerant way," Goldstein said.

Still, 29-year-old blogger and journalist Haythem el Mekki says much of the worry over Islam is fueled by the West.

"Islam doesn't prevent democracy -- to the contrary. It means that everybody must offer their ideals," el Mekki said.

Ennahda has struck a chord with many voters, not just because of its religious appeal. Politician Abderrahim believes it reflects Tunisia's conservative culture.

Abderrahim claims more secular parties want complete liberty for women -- including sexual liberty and having children out of wedlock. She says that doesn't fit with Tunisian customs. Nor do homosexuality and marrying non-Muslims, she adds.

But in the workplace she believes women should be equal to men… and hold prominent jobs in Tunisia's next government.

You May Like

Multimedia Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

UN Warns Air Pollution in Asia Pacific Has Rising Cost

Globally some seven million people a year die prematurely due to indoor and outdoor pollution with about 70 per cent of those deaths in region

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs