Tunisia Falling

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As it prepares for its first General Election, Tunisia’s fledgling attempt toward democratic rule is being heavily threatened by an emboldened Islamist movement and an increased al Qaeda presence.

Tunisia’s Islamist movement is led by Ennahda, the Tunisian Islamist party inspired by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. The Ennahda — which had been banned by former Tunisian President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali since its 1981 inception — was legalized in March 2011 following Ben Ali’s ouster.

Like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Ennahda has been viewed as having the organizational expertise and large membership to make it the odds on favorite in any parliamentarian election. With that in mind, Tunisia’s interim government recently moved its originally scheduled July Election to October in an effort to help the country’s disparate group of loosely organized, secularist parties better prevail against the more organized Ennahda.

Not surprisingly, that decision was denounced by Ennahda leaders but hailed by pro-democracy advocates, one who said that holding the July election would have entailed political “suicide” for anti-Islamist groups.

Yet, even though the victors in the October 2011 election will be charged with rewriting Tunisia’s Constitution, Tunisia’s interim leaders have been quick to downplay the adverse impact of an Islamist electoral victory.

While acknowledging that Ennahda could garner up to 20 percent of the vote, Tunisia’s Foreign Minister Mohamed Mouldi Kefi said its effect would be minimal because it would still have to form a “coalition to work with the others parties and the other political forces.”

For his part, Ennahda’s leader and founder Rached Ghannouchi — who returned from exile upon the ouster of Ben Ali — has also tried to downplay his group’s radical Islamist intentions, saying his party is committed toward “implementing democracy and a parliamentary system.”

Yet, despite Ghannouchi’s statements, others believe that Ennahda is waging a public relations campaign to conceal its true intentions, which center on the creation of a Sharia-based Islamist state. Perhaps that view was best expressed by one Tunisian pro-democracy advocate who said of the Islamists, “They’re doing doublespeak, and everyone knows it.”

While Ennahda may be trying to hide its true aims, the same can’t be said for Al-tahrir, the Tunisian Salafist party. Although the party has yet to be declared legal by the Tunisian government, it nonetheless has been busily advocating for its agenda, which openly calls for a return to a caliph-run Islamic state.

A recent glimpse of Al-tahir’s grassroots campaign included its attack on the first meeting of Tunisia’s Democratic Modernist Pole, a coalition of Tunisia’s democratic and largely secularist political parties that includes the Al-Tajdid Movement, the Socialist Left Party, and the Republican Consensus.”

A second example of Al-tahir’s work came shortly afterwards when a group of armed Salafists protesting against ‘modernism” and “freedom” vandalized a movie screening of two films on secularism and religion, threatening its patrons with death. In a revealing glimpse into its own allegiances, the Ennahda party subsequently issued a statement absolving the Salafist attackers but finding instead that the theater goers were “being provocative.”

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  • Med

    Baloney analysis. Very little knowledge of Tunisia. Wrong on many basic facts (Ben Ali wasn't president in 1981). Generalizations and unproven statements and pronouncements presented as "analysis". : C minus

  • touareg 121

    I’m not pro enahdha. This article must be one of the worst analysis of what’s happening in Tunisia.

  • Tunisian

    This is unfortunately the view shared by all anti-ISLAM. Anything related to Islam has the tags of al qaeda and extremism thrown at it. There’s nothing intellectual about this article, just someone trying to make a name for himself.

  • Jamel

    The writer should do some research before start analyzing and not base his entire writing on other published news. This is totally a superficial analysis based on wrong facts. As mentioned above, Ben Ali wasn't president in 1981, second and most important, Ennahda is not inspired by the Egyptian Brotherhood. At least now, they are associating their views to the Turkish party.
    Besides, the writer lack understanding of the Tunisian society. One thing worth noting, the Tunisian who led the revolution weren't Islamist or Salafist. Those are the real Tunisian and the true power of the country. What make you think those guys won't go out again and get the Ennahda out. I m a Tunisian myself, and will tell you only one thing, Tunisians are majority Muslims, BUT it will never be a religious pure Islamic country and will never have Islamic law. That is just not going to happen.

  • scum

    So your argument is that the organization should be banned? You're all for Big Gov?

  • Hannibalbarca

    Very poor artcile. Very shallow analysis

  • Gil

    Fortunately the Tunisia described in this article does not seem to match the Hip Hop and House music dancing country I visited a week ago. The general consensus I heard from everyone I had spoken to, is that the vast majority of all Tunisians are not willing to replace Ben Ali’s dictatorship with just another form of dictatorship which is what an Islamist state would amount to. The second good news is that although I do not completely trust everything they are currently saying, Ennahda is really not as extreme as other Islamist movements in other countries. So what, even if they should get about 20% of the parliament seats, that corresponds about to the share the Christian democrat parties hold in many European countries.
    Right now Tunisia has many problems, from unemployment to weak tourism to the civil war next door in Lybia, fortunately homegrown religious extremism is not one of them.

  • Observer

    "an increased al Qaeda presence" How, Where? Show me ! You are trying to discredit a geuine democratic revolution by resorting to lies! You are litterally a liar!

  • Wesley69

    The presence of the Muslim Brotherhood, in coalition with other Radical Islamist groups could steer this country toward a state based on strict Shariah Law. The ultimate goal of becoming part of an Islamic Caliphate would gain momentum, once other countries unite to establish it. How their revolution turns out is up to the people of Tunisia. Do they want a secular democratic country where voices from all sides of the political aisle can be heard or do they want one where their lives are governed by political-religious law? Can a theocratic state actually function as a democracy, I don't know. Maybe the people of Tunisia may discover a middle path.