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

Report: $60 Billion Leaves Africa Illegally Each Year

Report by a joint UN and African Union panel says African countries need to take concrete measures to stop billions of dollars from illegally being moved out of continent each year More

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Some analysts say Russian Tu-95 bombers were flying near British airspace to warn Britain about an inquest into a murdered Russian spy More

Mugabe Defends Image Amid Controversy at Close of AU Summit

He rejects concerns about how the West might perceive his leadership, saying he's focused on African development 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.
Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relationsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
January 31, 2015 10:50 PM
Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Neighborhood Divided Over Conflict

People in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk districts find themselves squarely in the path of advancing Russian-backed rebels, who want to take back the territory they held at the beginning of the conflict last year. Many local residents are afraid, but others would welcome the change, even when a rebel shell lands in their neighborhood. From the Luhansk district, 15 kilometers from where the Ukrainian government marks the front line, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid