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

Video Russia’s Syrian Escalation Tests Obama’s Crisis Response

Critics once again question whether president has been slow to act on Syrian conflict, thus creating opening for powers like Russia More

Ancient African DNA Shows Mass Migration Back Into Africa

First genetic analysis of ancient human remains in Africa suggests massive migration from north around time of Egyptian empire More

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

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

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs