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Ed Webb

The Fight Against Terror Needs Better Data - Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • Using a leaked database from 2016 on Islamic State recruits, we were able to geographically locate where almost 600 recruits originated from in Tunisia—one of the highest exporters of foreign fighters to Syria. We then used socio-economic data from Tunisian delegations (the equivalent of a district or a county—the smallest geographic unit that could be measured) to try to find what was driving foreign fighters to go to Syria. Surprisingly, our research suggests that absolute indicators of well-being, which are intuitively linked to terrorism by many policymakers, are not related to a higher probability of joining a violent extremist group.
  • higher rates of radicalization seem to be linked to relative deprivation—the perception of being disadvantaged or not achieving the expectations one feels entitled to. This builds on previous research including Ted Robert Gurr’s seminal book, Why Men Rebel, and supports the conclusions of recent work such as Kartika Bhatia and Hafez Ghanem’s study on the linkage between economic development and violent extremism across the Middle East
  • districts with high levels of unemployment among university-educated men produced higher numbers of men joining violent extremist groups
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  • districts with high inflows of domestic migrants in search of better living conditions exported more foreign fighters
  • the problem is not one of poverty or unemployment per se but rather the unmet expectations of highly educated youth who feel the country’s social contract has failed them
  • even policies that advance the right agenda items—such as increasing employment for well-educated youths—may not make any impact in addressing radicalization if they are too broadly based or target districts with low numbers of foreign fighters
Ed Webb

Bringing the Economy Back Into Tunisian Politics - Carnegie Endowment for International... - 0 views

  • Observers have often summarized the situation in Tunisia, and the Arab world in general, as a conflict between Islamists and secularists. While the framework of an Islamist–secularist divide is not completely inaccurate, it frequently ignores more nuanced analysis and perpetuates the orientalist premise that Middle East politics should be explained by historical religious norms. In Tunisia, political Islam was marginal until the fall of dictatorship in January 2011.
  • The main demands of the sporadic protest movements before 2011 were not ideological, but called for more political liberties or an improved socioeconomic situation, as in the 2008 Gafsa uprising
  • a growing sense among disenchanted voters, youth in particular, that their standards of living would not improve no matter which party they voted for.
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  • As a structured political party with large parliamentary representation but little influence inside state institutions, Ennahda in particular has aimed to change the status quo, as its new elite within the Tunisian interior remains largely excluded from the established economic circles in the coastal cities.
  • seek the political backing of the IMF and G7 countries, who are demanding that Tunisia speed up ongoing structural reforms to the economy. However, these measures are very unpopular, reawakening old grievances and notably sparking widespread anti-austerity protests in January 2018
  • The discourse of the union’s leadership—which calls for nationalization of major sectors and includes elements of pan-Arabism and anti-imperialist nationalism—is finding appeal among a population disenchanted with the leading parties’ ability to improve their economic situation. The union has also found natural partners in the Popular Front, a political coalition of leftists and pan-Arabists, and in remnants of the old regime, whose hybrid ideology incorporates nationalism, socialism, and pan-Arabism
  • as UGTT leaders accuse Chahed and Ennahda of being manipulated by the IMF and foreign countries, the camp in power is going on the defensive. They have alternately called for negotiations, stalemate, and compromise with the UGTT, ultimately capitulating to the UGTT’s primary demand on February 7 to increase wages in order to avert the planned February 20 strike
  • The more Tunisia’s foreign partners demand substantial structural reforms, the more the current coalition will confront popular anger that puts these reforms on hold, lest the coalition provoke a larger upheaval that could topple it. This will in turn make it harder for the government to abide by Tunisia’s commitments to its international donors, at a time when it needs their support to keep a grip on power
Ed Webb

A Chance for Moderation - Sada - 0 views

  • Non-jihadi Salafis, particularly those who have shown a real inclination toward moderation, can play a key role in minimizing the jihadi threat
  • Apart from Salafi jihadis, two other major currents of Salafism exist in Tunisia: Salafiyya ‘Almiyya, often translated as "scientific Salafism," and political Salafism.  Members of the Salafiyya ‘Almiyya current are apolitical, preferring to immerse themselves in religious devotion. Their movement dates back to the eighth century AD. Until the last century, they remained an elitist and almost forgotten sect. Although their profile has risen since the revolution, scientific Salafism’s imprint on religious life remains limited—only around 24 of Tunisia’s mosques are under their control. Nonetheless, some scientific Salafi sheikhs, such as Bashir bin Hassan, are well-known religious figures, with impressive followings and media platforms.
  • political Salafis aspire to use political avenues to influence Tunisian society. Some have formed parties such as Jabhat al-Islah and Hizb ut-Tahrir. Although they were unsuccessful, Jabhat al-Islah members contested six seats in the Constituent Assembly as independents (the party did not receive an official license until March 2012) in the October 2011 elections. Enacting sharia law is their foremost policy priority,  and they have also called for cutting ties with the IMF and World Bank and for Tunisia to stop repaying foreign debts. Hizb ut-Tahrir also advocates an agro-industrial economy that is less reliant on tourism
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  • Although Salafism might seem extreme by definition, the term is still helpfully vague. Some high-profile Islamists have shown a capacity to use the ambiguity of the term to their advantage. For example, last year Ennahda’s co-founder, Rachid Ghannouchi, claimed—in an attempt to pacify and woo young Salafis—that he himself is a Salafi in the sense that Salafism means a “return to the noble values of Islam founded on the Koran and the Sunna.”
  • Mohamed Khoja, who leads Jabhat al-Islah, was one of the founders of the Tunisian Islamic Front, which had suspected ties to terrorism. Now he rejects violence in Tunisia and insists that, if elected, members of his party would not outlaw alcohol or ban bikinis.
  • Ansar al-Sharia is eager to cultivate a peaceful image not just because it fears government reprisals, but also to avoid alienating members who are against violence in Tunisia. It is, after all, a disconnected movement that relies on dozens of charismatic leaders to exploit everyday discontent at the grassroots level of Tunisian society. 
  • Salafi political parties have a much harder task than groups like Ansar al-Sharia. They must prove their ability to shape political decisions, rather than simply blasting more energy into street politics
  • political parties’ youth activities are much less visible. Jabhat al-Islah’s Facebook page is dominated by pictures of middle-aged men. Similarly, older “wise men” are the face of scientific Salafism. As a result, these movements hold limited appeal for youth.
Ed Webb

The myth of the Islamist winter - www.newstatesman.com - Readability - 0 views

  • In Tunisia, as in Egypt, the Islamists who came to power through the ballot box are seeing their popularity erode and are tempted to hold on to power by recourse to authoritarian measures. But they have to deal with the legacy of the Arab spring. They face a new political culture: now, one where people who disagree with the government take to the streets; where there is no reverence for established power and the army and the police no longer inspire fear.
  • consider the precise nature of this authoritarian turn because it bears little resemblance to the “Islamic revolution” often associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and al-Nahda, the Renaissance Party, in Tunisia. It is, on the contrary, a conservative and paradoxically pro-western “counter-revolution”
  • The electoral and social base of the Egyptian regime is not revolutionary. Instead of trying to reach a compromise with the principal actors of the Arab spring, Morsi is attempting to get all the supporters of the new order on his side. The coalition he is building is based on business, the army, the Salafists and those elements of the “people” that are supposedly tired of anarchy
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  • economic model is neoliberal
  • State control of religion would in fact go beyond institutions and extend to religious orthodoxy, leading to limitations being placed on Sufi practices and theological discussions. Even if the Muslim Brothers succeed in the first part of the operation – nationalising faith institutions – the price they will have to pay for it will be high, because the imams won’t appreciate being turned into civil servants. They also run the risk of destroying the religious dynamic of their movement: if the state controls religion, what use is a religious “brotherhood”? And if religion is identified with the state, there is a grave risk that the unpopularity of the government will affect faith institutions in turn, as has happened in Iran
  • Time is against Morsi, because the economic measures that he wants to introduce will make the government increasingly unpopular. And, on the other hand, continued popular protest will require him to call on the army, which will support him, but at a price – the political and economic autonomy that the military is asking for runs counter to the Brotherhood’s programme of economic liberalisation
  • the other battleground for the Muslim Brotherhood is control of the religious sphere. Like al- Nahda in Tunisia, it has discovered that this is considerably more diverse than it had thought. Moreover, figures who had previously been relatively docile where the state was concerned, such as Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, have reasserted the autonomy that they were granted by the Arab spring. This means that the only way for the government to wrest back control of the religious sphere is to place it under the authority of the state (specifically, to submit the mosques to the diktat of the ministry of religious affairs)
  • Morsi has accepted the outlook of the IMF, not because he has been forced to do so, but because it is an approach he shares. This will bring further privatisation and competition. And because the price paid by swaths of the population will be severe, the government will need a functioning apparatus of repression and to break the trade unions. It will also have to gain the acquiescence of the army, in exchange for immunity and the right to regulate its own affairs, particularly in the economic sphere
  • a politics more redolent of Pinochet in Chile than of Khomeini in Iran
  • Religion is becoming just one instrument of control among others – rather than a social, economic and ideological alternative. This is, in short, the failure of political Islam
  • Al- Nahda is neither as strong nor as deeply rooted as the Muslim Brotherhood. The movement is more diverse, with a branch that is, if not more liberal, then at least more realistic. And because of their commitment to violence, the Tunisian Salafists are not credible allies
  • Al-Nahda is coming into conflict with the unions, either for the same reasons as in Egypt (a fascination with the free market) or for reasons more specific to Tunisia (it wants allies on its left but cannot bear to compete with a truly popular movement of grass-roots activists)
  • As in Egypt, al-Nahda proposes to use its own ministry of religious affairs to control the religious sphere, although this statism could rebound against the movement
  • if there were a credible and unified opposition, it could beat al-Nahda in the elections. Consequently, Tunisia’s chances of staying democratic are better than Egypt’s
  • The Islamists are succeeding neither in delivering the goods in economic and social terms nor in giving the impression that they are architects of an authentic social project that goes beyond the stamping of “Islamic markers” on a society over which they have increasingly little control
  • To get through the period of austerity and the economic difficulties that go with it, they should have done more to secure a “historic compromise” with the liberals. The alternative to such an alliance is not “Islamic revolution”, however. What is taking shape instead is a coalition that is con - servative in politics and morals but neoliberal in economics, and thus open to the west
Ed Webb

The Arab Spring Still Blooms - www.nytimes.com - Readability - 0 views

  • The Arab revolutions have not turned anti-Western. Nor are they pro-Western. They are simply not about the West. They remain fundamentally about social justice and democracy — not about religion or establishing Shariah law2.
  • The democratization of Tunisia, Egypt and other countries has allowed a number of extremist free riders into the political system. But it has also definitively refuted the myth that democracy and Islam are incompatible. Islamists are political actors like any others: they are no more pure, more united or more immune from criticism than anyone else.
  • Radical Salafis who advocate violence and Shariah constitute a very small minority in Tunisia — and even in Egypt they are vastly outnumbered by more moderate Islamists. They are a minority within a minority, and extremely unpopular among both religious and secular Tunisians. They do not speak for all Tunisians, Arabs or Muslims.
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  • As a democratic government, we support the Salafis’ freedom of expression, but advocating violence is a red line. Those who cross it will be arrested.
  • strength and importance of extremist groups have been unduly amplified by the news media
  • Images of angry Muslim mobs, like the one featured on a recent cover of Newsweek magazine3, once again revived the old Orientalist trope of a backward and hysterical Muslim world, unable to engage in civilized and rational debate or undertake peaceful negotiations — in other words, incapable of conducting political affairs.
  • Arguing that the groups who have recently staged violent demonstrations represent the entire Arab population is as absurd as claiming that white supremacist groups represent the American people or that the Norwegian right-wing mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik is representative of Europeans.
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