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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 Nahda. 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 Nahda, 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 Nahdan 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 Nahda (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, Nahda’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

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 nahda 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

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. Tunisia, 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 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 nahdan electoral politics.
  • Ennahda’s leaders had to take into account the fact that a large part of nahdan 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 EnTunisia 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” EnTunisia 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. EnTunisia’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 nahda’s post-revolutionary era by showing a remarkable capacity for pragmatism
Ed Webb

How big were the changes Tunisia's EnTunisia party just made at its national congress? - The Washington Post - 0 views

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