Fears of Islamist revival as Tunisian PM falters
Saturday 22 January 2011
Even as Tunisians celebrate the fall of totalitarianism after 23 years, for many there is a shadow looming over their new-found freedom – the apprehension of rising religious fundamentalism and its effect on human rights.
Yesterday saw the first Friday prayers in Tunis since the fall of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali last week.
As worshippers left their prayers, outside some of the mosques were groups of men espousing conservative Islam, distributing leaflets warning against unbelievers.
With Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi yesterday promising to quit politics after fresh elections, citizens are pleased at the prospect of a government with "clean hands" but are unsure whose hands they will be.
The Ben Ali regime presented itself as a bulwark against terrorism, making Muslim fundamentalists the target of its draconian laws. But now the religious parties say that they, too, should be allowed to play a part in the new political landscape that has emerged since the collapse last week of Mr Ben Ali's rule.
Ennahda, or "Awakening", an Islamist movement, was banned under Mr Ben Ali with its leader, Rachid Ghannouchi (unrelated to the current Prime Minister), exiled in London. Now, as its members take part in daily protests in the centre of Tunis, the party is seeking to be legalised.
Hamida Raidi, who was involved in a heated debate during a march after speaking out against political Islam, said: "We don't want to exchange one repressive government for another. We have seen what Islamist parties do when they start influencing politics. This will be bad for Tunisia and especially bad for women."
Hamid Jebali, a senior Ennahda official, blames a variety of people, from secularists with agendas in Tunisia to the Western media, for presenting a false image of Islamists. "It is the newspapers and television in Europe and America who are trying to frighten people by saying that 'the Islamists are rising'," he said. "But we are not the Taliban, or al-Qa'ida or Ahmadinejad. We shall submit to the vote of the people when the time comes."
Ennahda believes that political momentum is on its side. Rachid Ghannouchi said he will return to his homeland, after two decades, at the opportune moment while the movement's deputy leader, Ali Laraidh, has held talks with the Prime Minister over the possibility of being part of a government of national unity.
"To do that, we need to have our party legalised," said Mr Laraidh, who was imprisoned for 14 years under the old regime for "plotting against the state".
The belief that Islam should play a part in shaping the new political landscape has some unexpected adherents in Tunisian society. Sahar Ben Younis, 20, a student dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, said: "We are not saying that there should be things like burkas here. But Ben Ali put a lot of people who held the true values of Islam in prison and we need people like them in politics."
However, Samir al-Taibi, a member of the opposition PDP party and a trade union activist, urged caution: "Ennahda say they are not extremist, they say that they believe in democracy and tolerance. Well, let us seen their manifesto, let us see how they will react if someone criticises fundamentalist Islam. We would also like to see their positions on armed struggle and Islam. There are a lot of questions to be answered."
Those espousing armed struggle have urged Tunisians not to be "seduced by democracy". Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb said this week: "This is the time to go to training camps and wage the decisive battle against the Jews, the Crusaders and their agents."
- 1 Unseen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory chapter deemed 'too subversive' released
- 3 Joan Rivers: 'Palestinians deserve to be dead'
- 4 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
- 5 Mexican woman becomes world’s 'oldest person' at 127
Israel-Gaza crisis: YouTube footage shows scale of destruction after 50 days of shelling
iPhone 6 'hidden code' could indicate sharper screens or bigger phones
Keira Knightley topless: Conservative actress does own take on #Freethenipple campaign for Interview Magazine
Joan Rivers: 'Palestinians deserve to be dead'
Ebola virus: It's ripped through towns – now the deadliest ever outbreak of the virus is heading for Africa's teeming cities
Robin Williams Emmys tribute led by Billy Crystal criticised for including 'racist' joke about Muslim woman
Rotherham child sex abuse scandal: Labour Home Office to be probed over what Tony Blair's government knew - and when
The Rotherham child abuse scandal is a tale of apologists, misogyny and double standards
What do immigrants really think of Britain? Polish immigrant's Reddit post goes viral
Do you realise just how foolish the UK looks?
With Douglas Carswell joining Ukip, my party has taken another giant step forward
£100 - £130 per day + Excellent rates of pay, Free CPD: Randstad Education Sou...
£21000 - £30000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Upper KS2 Primary Teacher...
£90 - £130 per day + Excellent rates of pay : Randstad Education Southampton: ...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are seeking Trainee Recruitmen...