Hillary Clinton Gets It Wrong on Tunisian Islamists

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century.


It’s where the Arab Spring began, over Muslim sexism, and it’s likely where it will end if enough Tunisians wake up. But this is what Hillary Clinton said in her speech.

Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab revolutions. Last year, an Islamist party won a plurality of the votes in an open, competitive election. I know some in Washington took this as an omen of doom. But these new leaders formed a coalition with secular parties and promised to uphold universal rights and freedoms, including for women

The reality in Tunisia however is quite different. And that comes from Islamophobic right-wing outlet, Human Rights Watch.

Tunisia is failing to crack down on Islamist violence against advocates of secularism including journalists and artists, and risks encouraging more attacks, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.

There have been at least a dozen attacks by groups of Salafis on proponents of secularism in the past 10 months. The victims included newspaper journalist Ziad Krishan and poet Aouled Ahmed, both known for their criticism of Islamist radicals, who were badly beaten.

Salafis were arrested after many of the attacks but were released soon after without charge, leading to accusations from opposition politicians that authorities were turning a blind eye to the violence.

Loosely organized groups have often attacked what they consider symbols of impiety in the country, including film screenings, art exhibits and festivals. Opposition parties have accused the government, which is dominated by the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party, of failing to investigate and prosecute these attacks.

And there’s this inconvenient video which tells us that Ennahda isn’t moderate at all.

Fears are now growing in Tunisia that its new government may be planning to introduce ­Islamist legislation after leaked conversations talking about alcohol bans and the imposition of religious laws appeared on the internet.

The Ennahda Party was elected on a moderate Islamist platform but last week Tunisia’s social media sites were flooded first by a video, then a phone recording showing ­Rachid Ghannouchi, the founder of the party, appearing to discuss with Salafists how to gradually Islamise Tunisian society.

And the video revealed even more support for universal rights and freedom.

In the video, which was first broadcast last April and re-broadcast October 9th, Ghannouchi said, “The secularists are still controlling the media, economy and administration. Therefore, controlling them would require more time.” He added that “the police and army’s support for Islamists is not guaranteed, and controlling them would also require more time.”

The Ennahda leader said, “We’ve met with Hizb ut-Tahrir, and the salafists, including Sheikh Abou Iyadh and Sheikh al-Idrissi.”

Abou Iyadh, also known as Seif Allah Ben Hassine, is currently wanted by Tunisian police in connection with the September 14th attack on the US embassy.

He also told the salafists about achievements that were made for them after Ennahda came to office. “The government is now at the hands of Islamists, the mosques are ours now, and we’ve become the most important entity in the country,” he said.

No omens of doom to see here. Just the fresh scent of the Arab Spring.

  • Free Tunisian

    I think what you are saying is 100% true. All Islamists are the same in the end. They don't believe in freedom and democracy although they may exploit such principles to get to power. It seems that Ennahdha's victory in the last elections was an omen of doom for all Tunisia.

  • http://www.facebook.com/freesoul.born Freesoul Born

    I respect any piece truthful of journalism but unfortunately there are a lot of journalists who put piece of writing while sitting in cave….not putting the efforts to go to places and see what is taking place on the ground…..Tunisian citizens are free to choose what they see fit…..To enlighten people like you….Tunisia will forever be where it is now with wide opened arms to its geo neighbors from the north west and south….All I can say ,If you have not been or lived in a country it is hard for you to understand the political game played in that country…Not necessarily,what is reported on al Jazeera matches BBC ,CNN, France24 or PRESS TV all depending whom you are working for and what background you have…I hope you get the message

  • http://www.facebook.com/freesoul.born Freesoul Born

    Your background is what guiding you not the facts on the ground…..Your article is very misleading to the truth…..So sad..If you you are not reporting from the area you are talking about you should get informed first or put the time and the efforts to understand who the people are and what are they looking for

  • mustapha

    Ghannouchi was even a salafist himself when he was in his 20s. This is a fact.