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“We must wage unceasing war against the Americans until they leave the land of Islam, or we will burn and destroy all their interests across the entire Islamic world,” Ghannouchi said in Khartoum, one of the major hubs for terrorists at that time.
The environment on the ground in Tunisia shows how deep the intolerant influence of Islamist ideology runs. On June 26, a cinema was attacked after it showed a film about persecution of critics of Islam. In October, about 300 Salafists tried to burn down a TV station that aired a debate about religious extremism. The home of a TV director who aired a film showing God as an old man with a beard was firebombed. These actions not only intimidate those opposed to Islamic extremism, but also allow Ennahda to portray itself as a comparatively “moderate” force.
Ennahda had a huge advantage in resources over its secularist rivals, resulting in suspicions that it took money from Gulf sources, which Ghannouchi denies. Ennahda also re-branded itself. It ran a female candidate who didn’t wear a hijab and said it won’t impose Islamic values, such as by banning alcohol or legislating what type of clothing is appropriate for women to wear.
The success of this political strategy can be seen in a statement by one voter for Ennahda who said, “This morning I voted for Ennahda and this evening I am going to drink a few beers.” The secularists failed to convince the Tunisian masses that Ennahda is not as open as it portends to be. The Secretary-General of the Ettajdid Movement, Ahmed Ibrahim, warned of Ghannouchi’s “double-speak” and said Ennahda threatens the “modern war of life.”
The Ennahda Party will now be the dominant influence when the interim government drafts the next constitution. Nothing will get passed without its approval. Its ambitions will be limited by political considerations, as it has to form a unity government and must be careful not to shatter its image as a “moderate” force. However, the Muslim Brotherhood’s strategy has always an incremental, practical approach towards establishing Sharia-based governance. The West and Tunisian liberals must hope that the Tunisian secularists can make a comeback, but the Islamists are now in the driver’s seat during a defining moment in the history of the country.
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