A Quick Diversion To Tunisia

March 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

Despite it not being Israel or Turkey, I write about Tunisia a lot as well, and there is some significant news today on that front. Contrary to some who insisted that the ruling Islamist Ennahda Party was no more moderate than any other Islamist party in the Arab world and that their proclamations regarding not making religious dictates compulsory was cover in order to win over Western audiences, Ennahda has announced that it will keep the language in the first clause of the existing Tunisian constitution in place. This may seem trivial, but it is significant because the Tunisian constitution makes no mention of sharia law, and Ennahda is not going to alter that despite its Islamist ideology. This is going to make it harder for them to defend their right flank and will likely prompt an outcry from Tunisian Salafists, who have been demanding sharia law and a rollback of the more liberal social legislation that has been a hallmark of Tunisia since the days of Habib Bourguiba. This is just the latest in a long list of reminders that not all Islamists – even Arab Islamists – are the same. Ennahda advocated for democracy and was receptive (and even positive) toward Western influences well before the Arab Spring, and it has consistently pledged to maintain Tunisia’s secular Personal Status Code. Furthermore, its founder Rachid Ghannouchi wrote decades ago that secularism with personal freedom is preferable to sharia with authoritarianism, so today’s announcement on the constitution should not surprise anyone. Some object to the description of Ennahda as moderate given Ghannouchi’s and others’ statements on the acceptable use of violence against Israel, but the harsh reality is that even Arab liberals espouse some odious positions on Israel and Jews, and moderation in Arab politics is a sliding scale. On every other issue, Ennahda is aptly described as moderate and does not appear to have a nefarious plan to institute creeping sharia through the back door. It instead presents a hopeful model for what an Islamist regime can look like when it is focused on policies that will improve democratic quality and social freedom in an effort to win votes past the initial election rather than on policies designed to create Islamic social homogeneity. It is important to object to Ennahda’s position on when it is ok to kill Israelis since Israeli life should be deemed just as valuable as any other, but that should not blind anyone to the fact that it is a completely different organization in both tenor and practice than the Muslim Brotherhood.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming…


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