News / Africa

Growing Debate Centers on Tunisia's Islamist Party

A Tunisian holding a board reading 'Not afraid of Islam', welcomes opposition figure Rached Ghannouchi, unseen, during his arrival at the international airport of Tunis, in Tunisia (File Photo)
A Tunisian holding a board reading 'Not afraid of Islam', welcomes opposition figure Rached Ghannouchi, unseen, during his arrival at the international airport of Tunis, in Tunisia (File Photo)

Tunisia's Islamist party was legalized this week after 20 years in the political wilderness. Under the pro-Western, but hardline, government of ex-president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Ennahdha was branded a terrorist organization. Now, the party is at the center of a growing debate on the role of Islam in Tunisia's budding democracy.

Less than two months ago, Ennahdha Islamist party was banned. Many of its members were in prison or living in exile. Now, they have returned home. The party has rented offices - now packed with visitors - in a bustling street in downtown Tunis. For the first time in two decades, this moderate Islamist party is again part of political life.

Just how big a role Ennahdha will play in Tunisian politics is anybody's guess. When it ran in 1989 elections - the last before it was banned under ex-president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali - it captured 17 percent of the vote.

Still relevant?

Ennahdha member Abdelhamid Jlassi was jailed a few years later on charges of plotting against the state. He was released in 2007. Now he is a senior member of the party's executive committee. He has no doubt Ennahdha still resonates with many Tunisians.

Jlassi says its impossible to say how popular Ennadha is because political polls were banned under Ben Ali. But he believes a large segment of Tunisia's population sympathizes with the Islamist movement.

Human Rights Watch's deputy director for Middle East and North Africa programs, Eric Goldstein, agrees.

"Ennahdha clarely has a significant base of support in Tunisia and wants to play a political role," he said. "And they should be allowed to play a political role as long as it remains true to its professed commitment - to respect the rules of the game, to respect the rights of women and to respect the results of elections."

Progress

Tunisia is among the most secular and western-oriented country in the Arab world. Most women do not wear headscarves and abortions here are legal. Supermarkets and many restaurants sell alcohol.

Ennahdha played only a minor role in the youthful, Internet-driven revolt that ultimately toppled Ben Ali in January. But now Ennahdha is a member of Tunisia's so-called Revolutionary Committee, made up of unions, rights groups and opposition groups debating the country's future. A key question is what role, if any, religion should play in politics.

Cultural role

Some women are concerned Ennadha may ultimately roll back women's rights here - although party members staunchly deny this. A leading Tunisian human rights activist and secretary general of the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights, Khadija Cherif, wants a separation of mosque and state.

Cherif is lobbying for Tunisia's constitution to be amended to include secularity as a political principle. If religion is separated from politics, she says, what's the point of Ennadha as a political party? Instead, she sees it playing a cultural role.

Religious dimension


But Ennadha's Jlassi believes democracy in Tunisia - and in the Arab world - can have a religious dimension.

Jlassi says Ennadha wants to win over Tunisian voters, not because of religion but because of its political platform, on unemployment or education for example.  He sees Ennadha as a variation of Turkey's ruling and Islamic-leaning Justice and Development Party.

Jlassi says Ennadha will not run in Tunisia's presidential elections, which are expected several months from now. But it will run in the legislative polls.

Farez Mabrouk, the head of Tunisia's newly created Arab Policy Institute, says the final arbiters in this debate are Tunisian voters.

"Tunisians will decide what type of regime they want," he said. "If Tunisians want a political party like Ennahdha, they will vote for them."

But Mabrouk also believes one message of the people's revolts in Tunisia and elsewhere in the Arab world is the affirmation of moderate Islam. He believes democracy is possible in an Islamic country.

Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnelsi
X
July 24, 2014 4:42 AM
The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video MH17's 'Black Boxes' Could Reveal Crash Details

The government of Malaysia now has custody of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was hit by a missile over Ukraine before crashing last week. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports, the so-called black boxes may hold information about the final minutes of the flight.
Video

Video Living in the Shadows Panel Discussion

Following a screening of the new VOA documentary, "AIDS - Living in the Shadows," at the World AIDS conference in Melbourne, a panel discussed the film and how to combat the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid