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Ed Webb

How much does scripture influence the political behavior of Islamists? - 0 views

  • How much does scripture—in other words the Quran and hadith—influence the political behavior of Islamists? Participants were asked to answer on a scale from 0-100—a score of zero meant that scripture held no influence at all on behavior; 100 meant that scripture was the sole determinant of Islamist behavior. Overall, our experts arrived at an average of 25, meaning they believe scripture to be a significant factor, but one factor competing among others, and by no means predictive on its own of Islamist political behavior.
  • “My sense is that scripture is deployed contextually and pragmatically, with social, economic, and political objectives guiding interpretations of scripture more than the other way around.”
  • Brotherhood groups in Jordan and Kuwait have increasingly allied alongside secular political groupings that call for similar democratic reforms. During a period where democratic space is, generally speaking, shrinking throughout the region, it is increasingly likely that Brotherhood groups will prioritize demands for structural government reform over the implementation of traditionally Islamist social policies
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  • scripture was not determinative—but rather more often justificatory—of political positioning… Nonetheless, it was highly relevant and influential, because many Ennahda members and leaders weigh questions of political maneuvering through the lexicon of scripture. Finding justification in scripture is therefore very important for Ennahda members; even if those justifications are themselves often context-dependent and subject to choices made by key leaders
  • This does not mean that religion does not matter—it does play a role at the level of the base and even amongst leadership circles, especially when it comes to carrying out da’wa (proselytization), implementing projects to ‘Islamize’ society from below, creating the political conditions which will nurture the kind of stability in which campaigns for more ‘religiosity’ can be initiated.
  • scripture provides the resources and rhetoric with which Islamists construct their high-level worldview and distinguish themselves from other political competitors
  • I view Islamist parties, especially, as responsive to the kinds of institutional structures and broader culture frames they encounter (and seek to shape). If I take the question as extending beyond parties to broader Islamist movements [i.e. the haraka, it becomes a little harder to say. It seems possible that scripture plays a larger role for other Islamist organizations, in terms of attention to charitable practices, public morality, and personal piety
Ed Webb

The Mainstreaming of Tunisia's Islamists | Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • Ennahda’s decision to jettison “political Islam” has far less to do with Islam than it does with politics. Judging by its program, its actions, and the people who run it, Ghannouchi’s party remains a conservative Islamic party. That hasn’t really changed. What Ennahda’s carefully orchestrated rebranding demonstrates, however, is just how skillfully its leaders continue to adapt to the changing landscape of Tunisian electoral politics.
  • Ennahda’s leaders had to take into account the fact that a large part of Tunisian society remained devoted to the secularist values aired by the old regime’s leading politicians and that they regarded the new ruling party and its aims with suspicion
  • opponents of political Islam continue to dominate the political scene
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  • The rise of the Islamic State, which continues to boast a startling number of Tunisians in its ranks, compounded the perception that Ennahda had been too lax about security and further undermined the public reputation of political Islam. These developments confronted party leaders with the realization that, no matter how “moderate” Ennahda appeared, entire swathes of the Tunisian electorate would reject its participation in politics point-blank.
  • A large segment of Tunisia’s population, especially outside the relatively cosmopolitan capital, still yearns to see a government infused with Islamic values. Ennahda’s followers in the poorer and more conservative interior continue to view it as a political force that represents them, regardless of its careful ideological recalibrations. When Ghannouchi announced the move away from traditional Islamism, he also proclaimed a separation of the party’s political and religious activities
  • By some accounts, Ennahda is already far more engaged in preparations for the municipal elections set for next spring than any other political party — raising the possibility that it could end up dominating grassroots politics while its competitors remain focused on maneuverings in the capital
  • Ennahda has kept up with the turbulence of Tunisia’s post-revolutionary era by showing a remarkable capacity for pragmatism
Ed Webb

How big were the changes Tunisia's Ennahda party just made at its national congress? - ... - 0 views

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    As Ennahda seeks to reboot its brand, are the changes as drastic as some have depicted?
Ed Webb

Exporting Jihad - The New Yorker - 0 views

  • A friend of Mohamed’s, an unemployed telecommunications engineer named Nabil Selliti, left Douar Hicher to fight in Syria. Oussama Romdhani, who edits the Arab Weekly in Tunis, told me that in the Arab world the most likely radicals are people in technical or scientific fields who lack the kind of humanities education that fosters critical thought. Before Selliti left, Mohamed asked him why he was going off to fight. Selliti replied, “I can’t build anything in this country. But the Islamic State gives us the chance to create, to build bombs, to use technology.” In July, 2013, Selliti blew himself up in a suicide bombing in Iraq.
  • Tourism, one of Tunisia’s major industries, dropped by nearly fifty per cent after June 26th last year, when, on a beach near the resort town of Sousse, a twenty-three-year-old student and break-dancing enthusiast pulled an automatic weapon out of his umbrella and began shooting foreigners; he spared Tunisian workers, who tried to stop him. The terrorist, who had trained at an Islamic State camp in Libya, killed thirty-eight people, thirty of them British tourists, before being shot dead by police.
  • he condemned the Sousse massacre and a terrorist attack in March, 2015, at Tunisia’s national museum, the Bardo, where three gunmen killed two dozen people. The victims were innocents, he said. Kamal still entertained a fantasy of joining a reformed police force. His knowledge of Islam was crude, and his allegiance to isis seemed confused and provisional—an expression of rage, not of ideology. But in Douar Hicher anger was often enough to send young people off to fight
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  • “The youth are lost,” Kamal told me. “There’s no justice.” Douar Hicher, he said, “is the key to Tunisia.” He continued, “If you want to stop terrorism, then bring good schools, bring transportation—because the roads are terrible—and bring jobs for young people, so that Douar Hicher becomes like the parts of Tunisia where you Westerners come to have fun.”
  • revolution opened up a space that Salafis rushed to fill. There were a lot more of them than anyone had realized—eventually, tens of thousands. In February, 2011, Tunisia’s interim government declared an amnesty and freed thousands of prisoners, including many jihadis. Among them was Abu Iyadh al-Tunisi, the co-founder of the Tunisian Combat Group. Within two months, he had started Ansar al-Sharia.
  • “The radical narrative tells you that whatever you’ve learned about Islam is wrong, you have to discard it—we have the new stuff. The old, traditional, moderate Islam doesn’t offer you the adventure of the isis narrative. It doesn’t offer you the temptation to enjoy, maybe, your inner savagery. isis offers a false heaven for sick minds.”
  • Democracy didn’t turn Tunisian youths into jihadis, but it gave them the freedom to act on their unhappiness. By raising and then frustrating expectations, the revolution created conditions for radicalization to thrive. New liberties clashed with the old habits of a police state—young Tunisians were suddenly permitted to join civic and political groups, but the cops harassed them for expressing dissent. Educated Tunisians are twice as likely to be unemployed as uneducated ones, because the economy creates so few professional jobs. A third of recent college graduates can’t find work. Frustration led young people to take to the streets in 2011; a similar desperate impulse is now driving other young people toward jihad.
  • the factors that drive young men and women to adopt Salafi jihadism are diverse and hard to parse: militants reach an overwhelmingly reductive idea by complex and twisted paths. A son of Riyadh grows up hearing Salafi preaching in a state-sanctioned mosque and goes to Syria with the financial aid of a Saudi businessman. A young Sunni in Falluja joins his neighbors in fighting American occupation and “Persian”—Shiite—domination. A Muslim teen-ager in a Paris banlieue finds an antidote to her sense of exclusion and spiritual emptiness in a jihadi online community. Part of the success of isis consists in its ability to attract a wide array of people and make them all look, sound, and think alike.
  • Souli wasn’t sure what should be done with returned jihadis, but, like nearly everyone I met, he spoke of the need for a program of rehabilitation for those who come back. No such program exists
  • In its eagerness to modernize, the Ben Ali regime encouraged widespread access to satellite television and the Internet. The sermons of Islamist firebrands from the Gulf, such as the Egyptian-born cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, entered the homes of Tunisians who felt smothered by official secularism. Oussama Romdhani, who was a senior official under Ben Ali—he was referred to as the “propaganda minister”—told me, “Radicals were able to use these tools of communication to recruit and disseminate the narrative, and they did it quite efficiently.”
  • Around 2000, the Tunisian Combat Group, an Al Qaeda affiliate, emerged in Afghanistan, dedicating itself to the overthrow of the Tunisian government. One of its founders, Tarek Maaroufi, provided false passports to two Tunisians who, allegedly on instructions from Osama bin Laden, travelled to northern Afghanistan posing as television journalists and assassinated Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Afghan mujahideen commander, on September 9, 2001. The Combat Group’s other leader, known as Abu Iyadh al-Tunisi, was an Al Qaeda commander; when the Americans overthrew the Taliban, in late 2001, he escaped from Tora Bora with bin Laden, only to be arrested in Turkey, in 2003, and extradited to Tunisia. (Sentenced to forty-three years in prison, he seized the chance to radicalize his fellow-prisoners.)
  • Why can’t the police do their job and stop the terrorists but let the smugglers go with a bribe?
  • “Maybe it’s the Tunisian nature—we like risk,” a former jihadi told me. A million Tunisians live and work in Europe. “A lot of drug dealers are Tunisian; many smugglers of goods between Turkey and Greece are Tunisian; a lot of human traffickers in Belgrade are Tunisian. Online hackers—be careful of the Tunisians, there’s a whole network of them.”
  • Walid was vague about his reasons for returning to Tunisia. He mentioned a traumatic incident in which he had seen scores of comrades mowed down by regime soldiers outside Aleppo. He also pointed to the creation of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, in April, 2013, which soon engaged in bitter infighting with the Nusra Front. Walid spoke of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the caliph of the Islamic State, with the personal hatred that Trotskyists once expressed for Stalin. He accused isis of destroying the Syrian resistance and helping the Assad regime. He believed that isis was created by Western powers to undermine Al Qaeda and other true jihadi groups.
  • these aged men from the two Tunisias—Essebsi a haughty remnant of the Francophile élite, Ghannouchi the son of a devout farmer from the provinces—began a series of largely secret conversations, and set Tunisia on a new path. In January, 2014, Ennahdha voluntarily handed over the government to a regime of technocrats. Ghannouchi had put his party’s long-term interests ahead of immediate power. A peaceful compromise like this had never happened in the region. Both old men had to talk their followers back from the brink of confrontation, and some Ennahdha activists regarded Ghannouchi’s strategy as a betrayal.
  • To many Tunisians, Nidaa Tounes feels like the return of the old regime: some of the same politicians, the same business cronies, the same police practices. The Interior Ministry is a hideous seven-story concrete structure that squats in the middle of downtown Tunis, its roof bristling with antennas and satellite dishes, coils of barbed wire barring access from the street. The ministry employs eighty thousand people. There is much talk of reforming Tunisia’s security sector, with the help of Western money and training. (The U.S., seeing a glimmer of hope in a dark region, recently doubled its aid to Tunisia.) But the old habits of a police state persist—during my time in Tunis, I was watched at my hotel, and my interpreter was interrogated on the street.
  • The inhabitants of Kasserine, however neglected by the state, were passionate advocates for their own rights. They had played a central role in the overthrow of the dictatorship, staging some of the earliest protests after Bouazizi’s self-immolation. In every coffee shop, I was told, half the conversations were about politics. Although Kasserine is a recruiting area for jihadis, Tunisia’s wealthy areas are so remote that the town felt less alienated than Douar Hicher and Ben Gardane.
  • “You feel no interest from the post-revolutionary governments in us here. People feel that the coastal areas, with twenty per cent of the people, are still getting eighty per cent of the wealth. That brings a lot of psychological pressure, to feel that you’re left alone, that there’s no horizon, no hope.”
  • The old methods of surveillance are returning. In the center of Kasserine, I met an imam named Mahfoud Ben Deraa behind the counter of the hardware store he owns. He had just come back from afternoon prayers, but he was dressed like a man who sold paint. “I might get kicked out of the mosque, because last Friday’s sermon was something the government might not like,” the imam told me. He had preached that, since the government had closed mosques after terror attacks, “why, after an alcoholic killed two people, didn’t they close all the bars?” To some, this sounded like a call for Sharia, and after informers reported him to the police the governor’s office sent him a warning: “In the course of monitoring the religious activities and the religious institutions of the region, I hereby inform you that several violations have been reported.” The imam was ordered to open the mosque only during hours of prayer and to change the locks on the main doors to prevent unsupervised use. The warning seemed like overreach on the part of the state—the twitching of an old impulse from the Ben Ali years.
  • “I never thought I would repeat the same demands as five years ago. The old regime has robbed our dreams.”
  • According to the Tunisian Interior Ministry, a hundred thousand Tunisians—one per cent of the population—were arrested in the first half of 2015. Jihadi groups intend their atrocities to provoke an overreaction, and very few governments can resist falling into the trap.
  • New democracies in Latin America and Eastern Europe and Asia have had to struggle with fragile institutions, corruption, and social inequity. Tunisia has all this, plus terrorism and a failed state next door.
  • Ahmed told himself, “If I pray and ask for divine intervention, maybe things will get better.” Praying did not lead him to the moderate democratic Islam of Ennahdha. His thoughts turned more and more extreme, and he became a Salafi. He quit smoking marijuana and grew his beard long and adopted the ankle-length robe called a qamis. He un-friended all his female friends on Facebook, stopped listening to music, and thought about jihad. On Internet forums, he met jihadis who had been in Iraq and gave him suggestions for reading. Ahmed downloaded a book with instructions for making bombs. In the period of lax security under Ennahdha, he fell in with a radical mosque in Tunis. He was corresponding with so many friends who’d gone to Syria that Facebook deactivated his account. Some of them became leaders in the Islamic State, and they wrote of making thirty-five thousand dollars a year and having a gorgeous European wife or two. Ahmed couldn’t get a girlfriend or buy a pack of cigarettes.
  • “Dude, don’t go!” Walid said when they met on the street. “It’s just a trap for young people to die.” To Walid, Ahmed was exactly the type of young person isis exploited—naïve, lost, looking for the shortest path to Heaven. Al Qaeda had comparatively higher standards: some of its recruits had to fill out lengthy application forms in which they were asked to name their favorite Islamic scholars. Walid could answer such questions, but they would stump Ahmed and most other Tunisian jihadis.
  • “We need to reform our country and learn how to make it civilized,” he said. “In Tunisia, when you finish your pack of cigarettes, you’ll throw it on the ground. What we need is an intellectual revolution, a revolution of minds, and that will take not one, not two, but three generations.”
Ed Webb

Tunisian Ruling Party Feels Heat After Egyptian Coup - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Mid... - 0 views

  • “France knows that Islam and democracy are compatible.” While Hollande did say “Islam” and not “Islamism,” it was nevertheless the closest thing to an endorsement of Tunisia's Ennahda party to come from any French politician.
  • if the Tunisian Tamarod movement has not seen immediate support from the street, they have received a major political partner: Tunisia's most important opposition coalition, Nidaa Tounes. The coalition — which scores alongside Ennahda at the top of opinion polls — issued a press release on July 4 in which it made the same demands as Tamarod, the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly and new elections.
  • Mabrouka Mbarek, a left-leaning deputy at the Constituent Assembly from the Congress for the Republic Party, expressed her outrage at Essebsi's position. “This is unacceptable and dangerous. For Essebsi to say this shows that he has no clue what democracy is, and is not fit to be in government,”
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  • “The Egyptian example is present in the mind of Ennahda right now,” said Mohamed Bennour, the spokesman for the Ettakatol Party in an interview at the party's annual congress on July 7. He went on to say that the events in Egypt could play a “catalyzing” role in Tunisia. “I think the people will move if Ennahda ever makes big mistakes. I think that Ennahda is conscious now of not making mistakes in the current period.”
  • The biggest bone of contention in Tunisian politics right now is the finalization of the country's constitution, and in particular two articles — Articles 6 and 141 — which secularists say leave the door open for a higher degree of influence of Islamic law. Article 6 says that the state is the “protector” of “al moqadiset”  — “the holy things" — which could mean a ban on insulting any religious symbols, mosques or even imams, a much stricter blasphemy law than anything Tunisia currently has. Article 141 says that no amendments can be made to the constitution which are not in accordance with “Islam as the religion of the state,” a vague wording that some — including the Ettakatol Party — think could imply that Sharia should be the basis for future constitutional changes. “Article 141 refers the origin of the law to the Quran and Sharia, and that is very dangerous because it can be interpreted by certain judges as being the law, Sharia as law,” said Bennour. However, Bennour and others within the socialist Ettakatol Party felt that Ennahda would cede on these controversial points in light of recent events.
  • While the rest of Tunisia prepares to slow down with the reduced hours of the holy month of Ramadan [due to start on July 9], the Constituent Assembly has announced it will continue to work, with a session in the morning and another after the breaking of fast at night. Perhaps the dire example of Egypt will push Tunisia's parliament to put aside differences and advance their country to the next phase of democracy.
Ed Webb

Don't Blame Islam for the Failure of Egypt's Democracy - Bloomberg - 0 views

  • Why has democratic constitutionalism worked relatively well in one North African Arab country while it has crashed and burned in another? And what will the answer tell us about the future of democracy in the Arabic-speaking world, from Libya to Syria and beyond?
  • During his decades in exile, Ghannouchi wrote extensively about the compatibility of Islam and democracy, and developed a relatively liberal vision of how Islam and the state should interact. Skeptics then claimed that Ghannouchi’s views were a cover for a more radical agenda; and some Tunisian secularists still think so. But the evidence thus far is sharply to the contrary. When Islamists called for inserting a reference to Shariah into the Tunisian constitution -- usually the sine qua non for any Islamic political party -- Ghannouchi took seriously the opposition from secularists. In a dramatic showdown with members of his own party’s leadership, he reportedly threatened to resign unless they dropped the measure.
  • Ghannouchi’s position is straightforward: He wants Tunisians to adopt Islamic values, but piety means nothing if imposed by coercion. Islam, he believes, will succeed in persuading people to adopt its truths more effectively if they don’t have its teachings shoved down their throats.
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  • willingness to share governing responsibility is probably the single-most-salient factor separating Tunisia’s relative success from Egypt’s disaster
  • Democracy requires parties to learn to work together and take account of one another’s interests. Those out of power must believe they will eventually be re-elected, and those in power must know they, too, will cycle out. That alone creates incentives to treat the opposition with political consideration and moral respect.
Ed Webb

Political courage - and risk - in Tunisia | David Rohde - 0 views

  • The ruling Islamist party, Ennahda, has rejected complaints of poor governance and failing to crackdown on attacks on liquor stores and art exhibits by hardline Salafists. Instead, it has blamed Tunisian news media, secular elites and elements of the old government for its decreasing popularity.
  • Islamists in both Tunisia and Egypt have overplayed their electoral victories and underestimated the secular opposition they face
  • “If Ennahda designates one of its hawks, there will be a conflict with the secular parties,” Labyed said. “At that moment the atmosphere would be very tense and could move to the streets.”
Ed Webb

A crisis in Tunisia: Murder most foul | The Economist - 0 views

  • Tunisia’s worst crisis since the revolution that toppled the country’s long-serving, secular-minded dictator, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who fled into exile in January 2011
  • In the past few months Islamist thugs have been taking the law into their own hands. Neighbourhood “committees to defend the revolution”, often including Nahda members who were political prisoners under Mr Ben Ali, have been accused of trying to intimidate opposition parties and have incurred growing hostility from more secular types. In December they violently broke up a trade-union rally.
  • The veneration of local saints across north Africa harks back to pre-Islamic Berber and sub-Saharan cultures. Muslim reformists in 19th-century Tunisia dismissed such traditions as demeaning and superstitious. Under Habib Bourguiba, the country’s first president after its independence from France in 1956, many shrines were turned into museums, cultural centres or even cafés. Others were officially tolerated for giving succour to people with medical or psychological worries. Nahda, which is close to the Muslim Brotherhood, has proclaimed an “Arab and Islamic identity”, implying distaste for shrine worship. But the desecrations obliged them to declare their respect for Tunisia’s diverse cultural and ethnic heritage.
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