Analyst Shadi Hamid compares Islamism in Egypt and Tunisia
Tunisia’s ruling Islamist party has selected its hardline interior minister to form a government. The move appears to be at odds with the recommendation of a recent report which calls on the Nahda party (also known as Ennahda or Al-Nahda or Renaissance) to adopt a more moderate stance and “promote a version of Islam rooted in Tunisia’s reformist movement and adapted to contemporary challenges.”
“Ali Larayedh, who has been widely criticized by the opposition for failing to ensure stability in Tunisia, hails from Ennahda Party’s hardline wing,” the Associated Press reports. “His nomination is expected to make the task of finding consensus and building a coalition with Tunisia’s other political parties more difficult.”
“The party chose Larayedh in an overnight meeting and he will be presented to President Moncef Marzouki later Friday, Moadh Ghannouchi, the son of Ennahda’s leader,” told AP:
Tunisia was plunged into a political crisis after the assassination of a leftist politician two weeks ago. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali resigned after his own party rejected his proposal to form an apolitical government of technocrats. The split between the party and Jebali was seen as a deep disagreement between the party’s hardline and moderate wings.
Mahmoud Baroudi, a leader of the secular Democratic Alliance opposition party, said Larayedh’s appointment would aggravate tensions and increase anger in the streets.
“He was responsible for leniency with Islamist violence against human rights activists,” he said, blaming Islamists for disrupting opposition meetings and assassinating Belaid.
This morning, President Moncef Marzouki reportedly asked Larayadh to form a government.
Pro-democracy and rights advocates have criticized Larayedh for deploying rather than reforming the security forces inherited from the Ben Ali regime.
“Before the revolution, the ministry was very much an opponent of Ennahda,” said Ali Zeddini, vice president of the Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights. “Now the tables have turned, and the ministry is working in Ennahda’s interests.”
Tunisian liberals and secular democrats are almost uniformly hostile to Larayedh’s nomination.
“The decision deepens the crisis because Larayedh headed the ministry responsible for the killing of Belaid and violence that has spread throughout the country,” said Zied Lakhdar, a leader in the Popular Front.
Jebali, who remains Ennahda’s secretary-general, refused to head the next government after his own party rejected his plan for an apolitical technocrat cabinet to prepare for elections, Reuters notes. He was seen as a moderate overruled by Ghannouchi, who says the last election gave Ennahda a popular mandate to rule in a power-sharing deal with moderate secular parties.
“Larayedh is not a man of consensus,” said Nejib Chebbi, leader of the secular Republican party. “He failed during his work as head of the Interior Ministry.”
“It’s the wrong message,” said Noaman Fehry, leader of the secular opposition Gomhurry Party. “Ennahda has missed a historic opportunity to evolve and put the country back on track,” he told the Wall Street Journal:
Ennahda itself has struggled to agree on a strategy for confronting some of the most violent groups in Tunisia, particularly the hard-line Islamist Salafis. Ennahda’s hard-liners are sympathetic to Salafist ideology and were hesitant to crack down too hard on a movement seen as an important pillar of Ennahda’s political support in the country, according to several government officials close to Mr. Jebali, the outgoing prime minister.
But a veteran journalist and human rights activist welcomed the appointment.
“He has a lot of flexibility and understanding,” said Neziha Rjiba, who worked with Mr. Larayedh on an opposition campaign against dictatorship before the uprising two years ago. “He knows you can’t take away women’s rights and you can’t impose Shariah law.”
The split between Mr. Jebali’s moderate wing within the party and hard-liners was emblematic of the dilemma facing newly empowered Islamic movements in the region as they struggle to adapt their secretive religious ideology to the practical demands of daily governance.
“There is a lot of confusion in the minds of Ennahda right now about what it means to govern a country,” said a Western diplomat in Tunis.
The Islamist party’s split between relative moderates like Jebali and hardliners headed by Ghannouchi is jeopardizing its ability to emerge as a credible party of government, a recent report suggests.
“An-Nahda itself is divided: between religious preachers and pragmatic politicians as well as between its leadership’s more flexible positions and the core beliefs of its militant base,” says an analysis from the International Crisis Group.
“Politically, such tensions give rise to an acute dilemma: the more the party highlights its religious identity, the more it worries non-Islamists; the more it follows a pragmatic line, the more it alienates its constituency and creates an opening for the Salafis,” it notes.
The report recommends “a charter to guide religious teaching at the grand mosque that would promote a version of Islam rooted in Tunisia’s reformist movement and adapted to contemporary challenges,” and calls on An-Nahda to “promote this concept of Islam in its publications and encourage associations with close ties to the party to spread it to its rank and file.”