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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

Rached Ghannouchi Re-Elected Leader of Ennahdha Party : Tunisia Live - 1 views

  • The 71-year-old Ghannouchi had previously said he didn’t want to continue as leader of the party, but the shura council, the committee within the party charged with designating a new head, had other plans, as Ghannouchi was selected from a list of 12 proposed names.
  • speech of invited Hamas leader Khaled Mechaal, who invoked solidarity between Ennahdha’s resistance of former President Ben Ali’s dictatorial rule and his own group’s activities
  • much of the tension was between first generation followers of the party and those who joined later, many of whom became active as part of the UGTE, the student union that swelled the party’s ranks during the 1980s
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  • some younger members of the party indeed held more conservative views that were in conflict with the moderate line so far extolled publicly by the party
  • Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, a member of Ennahdha who spent two decades in jail for his activism with the party, declared during the conference that he planned on reshuffling Tunisia’s interim government, opening up posts to small parties that were not yet part of the ruling “troika,”
Ed Webb

Human Rights Watch Condemns Controversial Defamation Bill : Tunisia Live - News, Economy, Culture and Travel - 0 views

  • a new bill that would ban blasphemy in Tunisia. The draft bill, proposed to the Constituent Assembly on Wednesday by Tunisia’s ruling moderate Islamist party Ennahdha, would criminalize “insults, profanity, derision, and representation of Allah and Mohammed.”
  • ” If passed, the draft law would punish such violations of “sacred values” with prison terms of up to two years and fines of up to 2,000 dinars (U.S. $1,236) through an additional article to the Tunisian Penal Code.
  • Mrad justified the bill’s proposal by explaining that the protection of religious symbols does not inherently represent an attack on freedom of expression. “In all societies, you will always find limits and things that you cannot say,” he said, adding, “We [Ennahdha] are committed to granting freedom of expression, but this law is just to set limits for this freedom.”
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  • General Comment 34, a statement issued by the UN Human Rights Committee in July of 2011 stating that defamation of religion is not an acceptable reason for limiting freedoms of speech. According to paragraph 48 of the declaration, “Prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the Covenant, except in specific circumstances…” Such “specific circumstances” include cases in which national or individual security is deemed to be threatened.
  • Although the country lacks laws criminalizing blasphemy, Article 121.3 of Tunisia’s penal code – which criminalizes disruptions that “harm public order or morality” – has been used to convict individuals found guilty of acts that could be perceived as attacks against Islam.
  • A prosecutor in Tunisia can prosecute on the basis of these two laws together and can add to the sentence. We have seen this in other countries, in other contexts.
Ed Webb

Equality of the Sexes Contested on National Women's Day : Tunisia Live - News, Economy, Culture and Travel - 0 views

  • First celebrated in Tunisia over fifty years ago, National Women’s Day commemorates the adoption of Tunisia’s Code of Personal Status (CPS), which was promulgated on August 13, 1956. The first law passed after the country gained independence from French rule, the CPS redefined the role of women within Tunisian society. The law outlawed polygamy, banned the wearing of the hijab, established a judicial process for divorce, and required the consent of both parties for a marriage to be considered valid. It also defined men and women as equal citizens and granted the right to comparable wages for men and women.
  • In particular, post-revolutionary power gains by Islamist political parties, such as Tunisia’s Ennahdha party, have led to unease among feminists. “Now, they [Ennahdha] want to take back all that we had achieved,” Saida Rachid stated today to Tunisia Live. “Unlike the reassuring and calming declarations from the Ennahdha party after the [October 2011 Constituent Assembly] elections, claiming that Tunisian women’s rights would remain safe, we are now under serious threat.” Rachid referred to article 28 of Tunisia’s draft constitution as particularly dangerous to women’s post-revolutionary gains. Terming women as man’s “partner,” the clause states that man’s and woman’s roles in the family are “complimentary.” The proposed article was approved by the Commission of Rights and Liberties on August 1 with a vote of 12 to 8, with Ennahdha party members comprising 9 of the votes in favor
  • Ennahdha Constituent Assembly member Souad Abderrahim called the public reaction to the article “very exaggerated.” She explained, “It is still a draft and not a final one…We wrote that women and men are complementary to each other, and not that women complement men. Second, we already mentioned the word ‘equality’ in article 22.”
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

An Arab world first: LGBT radio goes online in Tunisia despite threats | The Japan Times - 1 views

  • An online radio station catering for the LGBT community, believed to be the first of its kind in the Arab world, started broadcasting in Tunisia on Monday
  • homosexuality is officially illegal
  • It intends “to sensitize the people of Tunisia, ordinary citizens and political decision makers about homophobia in society and to defend individual liberties,”
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  • Gay rights activists have emerged from the shadows in Tunisia since the revolution in 2011, but their position remains precarious in Tunisia’s conservative Muslim society.Article 230 of the penal code includes a punishment of up to three years in prison for homosexuality and young men are regularly detained and prosecuted.
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

Bringing the Economy Back Into Tunisian Politics - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace - 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 democratic activists fear a tilt toward militant Islam - latimes.com - 0 views

  • The fervor echoes the passion of Salafis emerging in Egypt and other nations. But it appears more volatile in Tunisia, even though the population of ultraconservatives is significantly smaller.
    • Ed Webb
       
      Evidence? Given that this article is riddled with sensationalist & Orientalist observations, I think we need to be cautious about the judgment being expressed here.
  • The unresolved struggle between fundamentalist and moderate Islamists is the center of a larger debate with liberals and secularists over religion's influence on public life. It has been agitated by newly free societies that feel both the tug of the traditional and the allure of the contemporary.
  • "Modern Islamists aren't in a hurry to change society, but the Salafis want to do it as quickly as possible. They're focused on Tunisia because of our advanced civil and women's rights. They want to win here to show the rest of the region."
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  • Despite their disarray and infighting, liberals and secularists are strong in Tunis;
  • "We are Muslims. We trust only God," said Abdel Omri, a husky man with a full beard and skullcap shopping for sandals on the sidewalk. "We only use the government to get our ID cards. It has no bearing on our lives. We don't believe in man's democracy. God gave us democracy in the Koran. God accepts and God forbids. That is all."
  • "It will be very dangerous if we try to deny the Salafis a political say," said Abdel Cherif, a ranking Nahda member. "Our goal is to make them forget about weapons and conflict. We want them to participate in political life."
Ed Webb

Tunisia Navigates a Democratic Path Tinged With Religion - NYTimes.com - 0 views

  • “We’re surrendering our right to think and speak differently,”
  • The popular revolts that began to sweep across the Middle East one year ago have forced societies like Tunisia’s, removed from the grip of authoritarian leaders and celebrating an imagined unity, to confront their own complexity.
  • “It’s like a war of attrition,” said Said Ferjani, a member of Ennahda’s political bureau, who complained that his party was trapped between two extremes, the most ardently secular and the religious. “They’re trying not to let us focus on the real issues.”
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  • debates in Tunisia often echo similar confrontations in Turkey, another country with a long history of secular authoritarian rule now governed by a party inspired by political Islam. In both, secular elites long considered themselves a majority and were treated as such by the state. In both, those elites now recognize themselves as minorities and are often mobilized more by the threat than the reality of religious intolerance
  • secular Tunisians might soon retreat to enclaves. “We’ve become the ahl al-dhimma,” he said, offering a term in Islamic law to denote protected minorities in a Muslim state. “It’s like the Middle Ages.”
  • Others insisted that Ennahda take a stronger stand against the Salafis before society became even more polarized. “I don’t see either action or reaction — where is the government?” asked Ahmed Ounaïes, a former diplomat who briefly served as foreign minister after the revolution. “What is Ennahda’s concept of Tunisia of tomorrow? It hasn’t made that clear.”
  • He complained that the case had been “blown out of proportion,” that media were recklessly fueling the debate and that the forces of the old government were inciting Salafis to tarnish Ennahda. But he conceded that the line between freedom of expression and religious sensitivity would not be drawn soon. “The struggle is philosophical,” he said, “and it will go on and on and on.”
Ed Webb

'Charter of Honor' Proposed to Prevent Tunisian Mosques from Being Politicized : Tunisia Live - 1 views

  • Tunisian imams and religious lecturers will sign a ‘charter of honor’ to keep Tunisian mosques from becoming politicized during the holy month of Ramadan.
  • there are 4,885 mosques in Tunisia. 100 mosques are in the process of applying for recognition from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, while 20 mosques are completely independent of the government and are controlled by what Lefi identified as a Salafist movement
  • “We have an investigative committee that notifies us of any transgressions. Yet, like any other ministry, we cannot control everything. We try to interfere, but it gets hard sometimes with clashes between religious groups and security forces. The situation is not perfect, but it is getting better,”
Ed Webb

Mass Arrests Signal Policy Change Towards Religious Extremists - Tunisia Live : Tunisia Live - 1 views

  • The Ministry of Interior then outlawed Ansar al-Sharia yesterday and banned all its activities. The arrests and the ban of Ansar al-Sharia  represent a major policy shift for the coalition government led by the Islamist Ennahda party. This administration had been seen by critics as too lenient on extremist religious groups involved in a number of violent incidents since the January 2011 revolution.
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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