Academic journal article Hemispheres

From Theory to Practice - the Concept of an Islamic State Ennahda in the Context of Political Transition in Tunisia

Academic journal article Hemispheres

From Theory to Practice - the Concept of an Islamic State Ennahda in the Context of Political Transition in Tunisia

Article excerpt

Abstract

The article aims to answer the question concerning the role Ennahda, Islamist organisation that was established in 1988, has played in the process of political transition in Tunisia so far and can play in the future. Despite unquestionable political skills of Ennahda representatives, and their ability to cooperate with different political parties there are growing concerns about the intentions of the Islamist party. The escalating conflict between secularists and Salafists over the presence of religion in the public sphere and Ennahda's ambiguous response to it has caused the secularists to start questioning Ennahda's moderation and its commitment to civil liberties.

The fall in January 201 1 of the regime of Ben Ali, who since taking power in 1 987 had continuously held the office of president, marks a new stage in Tunisian history - the phase of transition. Free parliamentary elections which took place on 23 October 2011 and were attended by more than 90% of the registered voters has instilled optimism that the return to authoritarian rule is no longer possible in the country. Regardless of different statements made by members of the main political parties that the only alternative for Tunisia is a democratic system, the end result of the political transition is still difficult to predict. Doubts arise about the intentions of the biggest winner of these elections, namely, a moderate Islamist party Ennahda Harakat al-Nahdah). Its opponents are concerned that the exercise of its rule will be the initial step to the creation of a Sharia-based Islamic state, in which both women's rights and civil liberties will not be respected. The cofounder of the organization, its most important intellectual and longtime leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, repeatedly has been trying to dispel concerns of its opponents in numerous interviews and speeches in which he advocates political pluralism and civil liberties as the undisputed foundation of the new political system. The answer to the question about the role Ennahda has played in the process of political transition so far and can play in the near future, as well as whether the concerns of secular opponents of the organization are in any way justified, require an analysis of the concept of an Islamic state presented in the writings and interviews of Rachid Ghannouchi, and political strategy that has been developed by Ennahda since the revolution.

1. Ennahda - historical background

Ennahda (the Renaissance Party) is the name adopted in 1988 by the Tunisian Islamic Tendency Movement Harakat al-Ittijäh al-Islami), one year after the bloodless coup which was carried out by the then Prime Minister Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and his announcement of the democratization process. The new name was adopted in connection with the preparations for the parliamentary elections, which were held the following year, as opposition parties expected the introduction of a multiparty system, as well as a gradual increase of civil liberties as promised by the new president. The release of political prisoners by Ben Ali, most of whom were members of the Islamist group (MTI), which included Rachid Ghannouchi who was sentenced by President Habib Bourguiba to life imprisonment, was seen as an act of good will. Awakened hopes for legal participation in politics, however, were quickly cooled down by the refusal to legalize Ennahda as a political party, which prevented its electioneering, and then the invalidation of the election results which kept the candidates connected with the organization with nearly 15% of the votes in the whole country, and in major cities even up to 40%. The impressive election result of the Ennahda members (all the other opposition parties taking part in elections legally gained 5% of votes) alerted Ben Ali, who was willing to tolerate the Islamist group as long as they didn't pose any real political threat to him. The campaign of arrests of Islamists was started, and leading activists were forced to leave the country. …

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