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

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed 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.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs