Tunisia Started the Arab Revolts, Now It’s Beat Back the Islamist Tide

Jun 3, 2016

By Maajid Nawaz

Something great is afoot in Tunisia. Having sparked the consecutive Arab uprisings that began over five years ago across the entire Middle East, the country is now proving itself a pioneer once again in the region.

Last weekend, Tunisia’s once-Islamist Ennahda party officially declared that it will separate its religious activities from its political ones. It now insists on the absolute political neutrality of mosques. In other words Ennahda, Tunisia’s version of the Muslim Brotherhood, just approved an internal reform that acknowledged the primacy of secular democracy over Islamist theocracy.

Amid all the dictatorships and destruction, the turmoil and turbulence, the extremism and extermination, finally some good news from the bitter politics of the Arab world. Such is the dearth of political progress from the wider Middle East today that only a fool would not seek to exploit the opportunity such an pronouncement presents.

Ahead of last weekend’s party congress that formalized this change, Ennahda’s founder and leader, Rached Ghannouchi, who once supported enforcing an interpretation of Islam as law, told the French daily Le Monde that “political Islam” no longer had a place in the Middle East.

“We want religious activity to be completely independent from political activity,” Ghannouchi said. “This is good for politicians because they would no longer be accused of manipulating religion for political means and good for religion because it would not be held hostage to politics… We are leaving political Islam and entering democratic Islam. We are Muslim democrats who are no longer claim to represent political Islam.”

Ghannouchi’s reforms were overwhelmingly adopted by a jubilant conference that saw over 13,000 party activists packing a stadium. An overspill of 2,000 more waited in anticipation outside. Non-religious songs filled the conference hall, young girls without headscarves were given the stage, and Ghannouchi’s secular political rival Nidaa Tunis leader President Beji Caid Essebsi—yes, the man who ousted Ennahda in the last election—was the guest of honor for the evening.

Surprisingly, the party remained highly unified despite the unprecedented reforms: 80.8 percent of delegates voted in favor of separating the political from social work, and 87.7 percent voted in favor of Ghannouchi’s new intellectual vision for the party. Ghannouchi himself easily regained his presidency with a whopping 75 percent of the delegates’ votes.

None of the above should imply that Tunisia’s journey towards secularism will be without its challenges. Many Tunisians— and others who follow events in the region—will remain wary of a resurgent Ennahda. They may believe this to be nothing but a ruse in order to gain power in local elections next year, ahead of the 2019 general election.

But between the Egypt that didn’t even try, and the Turkey that tried and failed, there are reasons peculiar to Tunisia that may just allow this brave experiment to succeed.


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21 comments on “Tunisia Started the Arab Revolts, Now It’s Beat Back the Islamist Tide

  • In other words Ennahda, Tunisia’s version of the Muslim Brotherhood, just approved an internal reform that acknowledged the primacy of secular democracy over Islamist theocracy.

    Amid all the dictatorships and destruction, the turmoil and turbulence, the extremism and extermination, finally some good news from the bitter politics of the Arab world.

    “Some good news” is a bit of an understatement here! This is earth shaking news, especially when we see countries like Turkey sliding back into theocracy.



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  • 2
    Pinball1970 says:

    @neodarwinian This is earth shaking news, especially when we see countries like Turkey sliding back into theocracy.

    Yes and looking who is singing this from the roof tops, more stories like this please.

    Glass half full today Laurie



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  • a jubilant conference….

    and

    I recall insisting that his Ennahda version of Islam was simply not revolutionary enough. But time changes us all. And as the Arab uprisings have shown us, it is evolution not revolution that is best placed to settle the political disputes of the wider Middle East. It was, after all, my own slow political evolution that brought me to these very views today.



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  • Well, well, well; this is a turn-up for the books and no mistake gov’nor.

    The Brotherhood have been a pain in the humanitie’s butt since the days of Gamil Abdul Nasser.

    Could this be the removal of the first brick in the demolition of the wall of unreason? Or, to extend the metaphor, the laying of the first foundation stone of a house of love and reason?

    We’ll have to wait and see.

    In any case, that second option would be a fitting memorial to “The Greatest” Muslim of all, who died today; AKA, the Louisville Lip.



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  • Stafford Gordon #4
    Jun 4, 2016 at 1:47 pm

    Could this be the removal of the first brick in the demolition of the wall of unreason? Or, to extend the metaphor, the laying of the first foundation stone of a house of love and reason?

    Sceptics might think, it could be a ploy to gain power through democracy, before reverting to type. (I’m watching Turkey.)



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  • I’m quite certain that the Brexit and Remain proponents would bring in God on their sides if they thought it would win votes. Luckily that hasn’t happened so far in the EU referendum in Britain. Instead of “Hitler”, the first one to mention “God”, is bound to lose ! All power to those parts of humanity throwing off the shackles of religion !



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  • 7
    Flossie says:

    Who is the illiterate who wrote the title for this story?

    It should read “…, Now It’s BeatEN Back the Islamist Tide”

    Does the author of the title have no understanding of past participles?



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  • Flossie.
    Maybe that’s the way it’s written in ‘American’ as opposed to English?
    😉

    However it’s written, looks like good news to me. Just bit worried things are taking a turn for the worse in Turkey.



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  • Alan #5

    it could be a ploy to gain power through democracy, before reverting to type….Turkey

    Politically these situations are quite different in their roots. Erdogan is a corrupt secularist solving his problems of concealing corruption and seeing off religious rivals by moving in theocratic ways. The new found religiosity buys him a new set of allies and a new badge of morality. His manipulations to augment the powers of the president to to continue to silence the cyber media and its release of incriminating telephone recordings and adverse comment may carry him to a spurious sultanate position but the driver is all criminal/political, I’ll wager.



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  • Phil & Alan

    Erdogan’s schools teach religion whereas Gulens schools teach science, I read the other day. Gulen is against coming to a deal with the PKK whilst Erdogan relies on Kurdish voters and a peace deal. Erdogan’s movement is anti west which leaves Gulen as the choice of the west. The feud between these two and what the west wants has me totally confused with accusations of corruption on both sides. Given these reports, Gulens movement seems to be the best but will still be an islamic state. An islamic state that teaches science and reason????? I can only imagine that one wants the golden age of islam with science and mathematics and the other wants an Ottoman islam with a caliph. I really am confused as to what is best and Americas involvement? Erdogan’s paranoia is sort of understandable given the situation?

    http://www.mei.edu/content/clash-former-allies-akp-versus-gulen-movement



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  • This has developed a little from two and a half years ago, Olgun. From what I can see the evidence against Erdogan (and for instance his son) is solid and in the public domain, hence the ISP intimidation whilst that against Gulen has not been made public. If there were any, Twitter and Facebook would be Erdogan’s friend.

    My point, Ollie, is that this Turkish backslide from secularism is very unlikely to be an Islamist conspiracy, it will probably be rather more to serve the political needs of a compromised politician. Losing political power will make him much more judicially accessible, I propose.



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  • Pinball1970 #2
    Jun 4, 2016 at 3:19 am

    Glass half full today Laurie

    Yes, indeed it is.

    If this holds true then I’m so happy for the Tunisians. In years past that country was relatively liberal and secular. They’ve had more than a decade to watch what happened in Algeria on their western border as the fundamentalists waged war on the secular moderates there. Both Morocco and Tunisia were hanging onto their hats as Algeria sorted out their internal disaster. With Algeria on one side and the Libyan disaster on the other side, hopefully Tunisia can pull out of this with some stability and recovery.



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  • I realise the age of the link Phil but I do try not to get too blinded by present reporting by referring back and finding a path. The link writes that Erdogans excuse was for schools. The war between him and Gulen on that front makes some sense in that (I won’t offer as evidence and only hearsay) they need to fill these schools up. Both apparently are giving cash to each woman in a household that keeps the faith with head covered. Gulens money is free to do that but Erdogans cannot use government money for obvious reasons.

    It just makes sense (to me) that Gulens wealth is a threat and must be countered, for Erdogan. His strength comes by being in power and ruling that all children MUST study the Koran every day which flies against Gulens schools. Both corrupt with cash. As I said, only my thoughts with no deffinates.



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  • It seems the main problem with the “Islamic Tide”, is that its followers think that Sharia Law replaces secular civil law and civil regulations.

    This produces dangerous and dysfunctional situations!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-36524396

    Malaysia’s first Islamic-compliant airline, Rayani Air, has been barred from flying for breaching regulations.

    The Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) said it was revoking the airline’s certification because of concerns over its safety audit and administration.

    Rayani Air launched last December offering only halal food, no alcohol and crew wearing modest clothing.

    It has two Boeing 737-400 planes in its fleet, each able to carry about 180 passengers, eight pilots and 50 crew.

    The DCA said on Monday that Rayani Air could no longer operate as a commercial airline.

    It follows a three month suspension after the airline failed to follow flight regulations. A safety audit was later conducted to assess its operations.

    Malaysia’s aviation commission said in a statement that the airline “had breached the conditions of its Air Service Licence (ASL) and lacks the financial and management capacity to continue operating as a commercial airline”.

    The DCA said it had conducted a “thorough deliberation” on the airline’s response to the safety audit.

    In the lead up to its suspension, the airline had faced criticism including complaints about cancelled flights as pilots went on strike.

    Based on the island of Langkawi, Rayani Air had been flying to the capital, Kuala Lumpur, and the northern city of Kota Bahru.

    It had plans to fly to more Malaysian cities and eventually schedule flights to Mecca for the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages, reports said.



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  • OHooligan #18
    Jun 14, 2016 at 3:07 pm

    No, just seems to be business failings. Nothing to do with the Sharia angle. Must be hard getting a new airline off the ground, so to speak.

    Not sure about that!
    Management failings on safety regulations and financial propriety, but with full Sharia compliance, suggests the priorities and emphasis were in the wrong place!

    @link -The DCA said it had conducted a “thorough deliberation” on the airline’s response to the safety audit.

    A failed response to an official safety audit after failing to follow regulations, suggests that those involved just did not have the grasp of the methodology needed or the motivation to apply themselves to the task. –
    ie. The wrong mind-set and wrong skill-set! – Probably related to “faith-thinking”.



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  • OHooligan #17
    Jun 14, 2016 at 3:03 pm

    I didn’t realise Sharia Law had sections on aviation.

    The nearest thing I have seen to this in the UK, is LEA. consultative committees on school policies, where Catholic schools with governing bodies chaired by priests, were found (in their absence), to be operating from illegal policy documents they had written themselves, having sent no representatives to the training sessions, and no representatives to the consultation meetings on compliance with changes in the laws over the last few years.
    {Knowing what is administratively right or wrong by “faith”, apparently can save lots of time bothering to read legal documents or listening to expert advice! (allegedly)}



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  • Having the Sharia requirement first and foremost, I suppose it wasn’t so easy to recruit the best and brightest in the airline industry. Cabin crew perhaps, but pilots, engineers, maintenance technicians, administrators, managers? Or maybe the pay was crap. I saw mention of pilots striking, was that over pay or overwork, which would likely have clashed with safety regulations? Or was it directly a safety issue, striking due to the airline failing to comply with regulations, and the pilots noticed and refused to fly? (In which case, I applaud them.)



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