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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

Tunisia's War on Islam | Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • Ayari had no ties to terrorist groups. But it soon became clear that his appearance had turned him into a suspect in his own right. He was charged with terrorism, detained for several days, and savagely beaten. “The police officer spat in my face and beat me,” the 29-year-old Ayari told me later. “My face was bruised, my mouth was bleeding. A beard and traditional clothing mean ‘terrorism’ for security forces in Tunisia. That’s the bitter reality.”
  • “Today there’s a sort of trivialization of torture, especially in terrorism cases,” said Amna Guellali, the Tunisia director of Human Rights Watch. “When we speak up about the torture of terror suspects, we risk being considered traitors in the holy war against terrorism — and if we denounce torture, we’re considered pro-terrorist.”
  • Inclusion in the terrorism list also prevents people from obtaining copies of their criminal records. Since these have to be included with job applications, this amounts to an employment blacklist as well. This procedure means that hundreds, if not thousands, of Tunisians, most of whom are already from the most vulnerable segments of society, are subject to economic discrimination.
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  • a sort of social persecution of men and women who look religious — something that could further exacerbate Tunisia’s terrorism problem. Alienation pushes these people to the margins of society, making them psychologically fragile and more receptive to radical discourse targeted against the state. “How do you expect people to feel when they’ve been subjected to this sort of treatment?” said Ghaki. “They’ll feel hatred and a desire for vengeance.”
  • experiences frequent harassment by police and security personnel because she wears a face veil, the niqab. She said she once had to wait 45 minutes before she was allowed into a hospital. Though she offered to show her face and allow the security personnel to check her identity, she said they made sure to humiliate her before letting her go inside to visit her ailing relative.
  • While people have gotten used to seeing women wearing the hijab in Tunisia’s streets, niqabi women and bearded men are the country’s new scapegoats. Chaima said that she was once called a terrorist by a group of people in a passing car. “It’s not easy to be who we are in Tunisia,” she said. “Some people want to let us know that we have no place here.”
  • a group of lawmakers tried to exploit the rising fear of terrorism by proposing a law that would make it illegal for women to cover their faces in public. The draft law drew comparisons to a controversial 2010 law passed in France under president Nicolas Sarkozy. This is no coincidence. France is Tunisia’s former colonial power, and French law, culture, and values have had a profound impact on modern Tunisian society, particularly among the upper classes.
  • Decades of forced secularization under the Bourguiba and Ben Ali regimes made people less accustomed to the sight of traditional clothing and long beards. Displays of conservative religiosity are less common than in other countries in the region, and thus tend to draw scrutiny.
  • This kind of treatment inevitably contributes to the alienation and sense of exclusion felt by many of Tunisia’s most vulnerable people. It should be no surprise if some of them actually end up joining the terrorists who society has already classed them with. Sometimes it seems that the security forces aren’t even trying. Ahmed Sellimi, another of Mona and Tarek’s brothers, went to a police station one day to try to convince them to stop the harassment. “Why are you here?” asked the agent he addressed. “Why don’t you just go the mountains with the rest of the terrorists?”
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

Tunisia's Dying Jazz | Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • Bidali is one of the last living practitioners of stambeli, a uniquely Tunisian hybrid of musical genre, healing practice, and religious ceremony. It’s deeply rooted in the history of a specific community: the descendants of slaves brought to the region from sub-Saharan Africa during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It also has close links to Sufism, an ancient form of Islamic mysticism that uses music, dance, and rhythm to induce trance-like states that are supposed to bring listeners closer to the essence of the divine
  • President Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia’s first postcolonial leader, gave state support to many forms of art, but stambeli wasn’t among them; it didn’t fit the modern image of the country he was trying to shape
  • while subsequent police crackdowns have landed Salafists of all stripes in jail, some of the trends they promoted, such as moral self-policing and austere interpretations of Islamic cultural heritage, have taken root in society. With its unorthodox religious associations, stambeli has found itself in the firing line
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  • because of the rising influence of orthodox interpretations of the faith, stambeli artists are careful to stress the monotheistic, Islamic essence of their practice
  • The origins of stambeli music resemble those of American jazz (even though the two genres don’t sound alike). In both cases, the musical traditions of former slaves combined with the diverse cultural influences of their new environments to create something radically new. Whereas slaves arriving in Louisiana mixed their music and practices with European, Caribbean, and American ingredients, slaves arriving in Tunis during the same period fused their animist practices with North African versions of mystical Sufism and orthodox Islam. Mounir Argui, a theater director and music producer who works with Bidali, says that the metal castanets that play such a prominent role in stambeli performances evoke “the sounds of chains and shackles” that the slaves once wore, while the chanting recalls the “moaning.”
  • the Tunisian state never prioritized the preservation of stambeli, focusing instead on the art and culture it considered highbrow
  • Many Tunisians see stambeli as an alien phenomenon associated with blacks, who are already widely viewed as not quite Tunisian. In post-revolutionary Tunisia, where asserting the Islamic character of the country has become an important political symbol for some, the pagan origins of stambeli also cause suspicion
  • As long as some Tunisians continue to see freedom of religion and freedom of art as mutually exclusive, the rare traditions like stambeli that manage to straddle both will find little space
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

Constitution Calls for 'Neutralilty' of Mosques, but Meaning Unclear - Tunisia Live - 0 views

  • Rumors circulated this weekend that the Friday sermon in Tunisian mosques would soon be standardized by the government, meaning all preachers would read the same text to their congregations, and that political figures would be prohibited from delivering sermons. Officials at the Ministry of Religious Affairs, however, denied that these policies were being implemented.
  • The newly-adopted Tunisian constitution, which was formally adopted last week, not only “protects religion” and “guarantees freedom of belief and conscience,” but also guarantees the political neutrality of the roughly 5,000 mosques in Tunisia. “The state [...] ensures the neutrality of mosques and places of worship away from partisan instrumentalization,” according to Article 6 of the new constitution. This constitutionalized political neutralization of mosques is meant to “limit the interference of strangers in mosques,” Fadhel Achour, president of the National Union of Religious Officials, told Tunisia Live. His union represents clergy working in Tunisia’s mosques.
  • Mghiri oversees the Ministry of Religious Affairs’ Monitoring and Following Commission, which monitors Tunisian mosques. The commission receives petitions from citizens, follows up with them, and collaborates with the Ministry of Interior to curb what Mghiri deemed the “Salafist exploitation” of mosques and to prevent calls for violence in mosques. He also said that imams cannot directly tell those in attendance whom to vote for. Mghiri told Tunisia Live that different people from varied backgrounds gather in mosques and that telling these people for whom they should vote is not only illegal, but also not wise and does not comply with the canonical laws of Islam.
Ed Webb

Tunisia's Compromise Constitution - Sada - 0 views

  • Despite the reassurances of articles 40 and 45 as safeguards for women’s rights in Tunisia’s next constitution, women’s rights groups nonetheless still see much work to be done. They fear that article 7, which defines the family as “the nucleus of society” might be used later to limit women’s rights. For example, this could mean limiting women’s right to a divorce in the name of protecting the family. They also argue that article 21, which states that “the right to life is sacred” could be used to ban abortion, which is currently legal in the early stages of pregnancy. More likely, women’s rights groups could use articles 20 and 45 to push for a revision of the inheritance law, which is currently based in Islamic law.
  • While Western observers praise the current text as the best and most modern constitution in the Arab world, many Tunisians say that they do not want to have the most modern one in the region, but would rather see a good, coherent constitution. As it stands, the text reflects well the antagonisms that shape Tunisian society itself—compared to the 1959 post-independence constitution, which was closer to the elite’s vision of society than to social reality. The new text also highlights Tunisia’s contradictions. It will be for the Constitutional Court, to be established for the first time in the country’s history, to find (for the roughly 150 articles of text) a coherent interpretation that aims to guarantee Tunisians a democratic future.
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

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

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.
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
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