Tunisia's Islamist Party Presents New Moderate Vision

Article Summary
Ennahda’s first party congress confirmed the leadership of Rachid Ghannouchi as well as the party’s desire to strike a moderate tone and work with a greater range of political actors. Taieb Zahar calls these developments a good thing, but, judging from the trajectory of Tunisia's neighbors, warns that pitfalls still lie ahead.

The ninth congress of the Islamist Ennahda party in Tunisia has definitely sealed the radical transformation of this party. After forty years of quasi-clandestine status and terrible repression, Ennahda is now in power. It will have to manage the country without falling into the excesses of a one-party state. This is a tough balance to strike.

The party will probably still need its leader, Rachid al-Ghannouchi. Although Ghannouchi was tempted for a moment to replace al-Qaradhaoui as President of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, he abandoned this plan to devote himself to his party, where he remains a centralizing and moderating force. The 73% share he received in the recent elections for the party leadership reflects the strong popularity that he enjoys within his movement.

Pending further details on the various motions adopted during the most recent conference, it is already possible to draw a few conclusions on the meeting’s outcome.

First, we can conclude that the party is adopting a moderate political line and that the radical movement represented by some of the young activists was ultimately unable to impose its preferred direction for the party. Abdelfattah Mourou’s return to the party ranks is a clear example of this. For a while, Mourou was tempted to create his own party, but after this did not pan out, he finally ended up returning to Ennahda, which he co-founded alongside Rachid Ghannouchi. In fact, the welcome he received from the latter at the opening of the Congress was edifying.

Second, the party’s leaders have displayed a broad desire for openness with regards to other political forces not necessarily sharing in their ideology but with whom they have enough in common to form a coalition broader than the Troika. Rachid Ghannouchi is probably aware that his party will not be able to achieve a parliamentary majority and that both the Congress for the Republic (CPR) and Ettakatol lost as a result of the internal divisions and defections that they experienced. We will judge the degree of this openness by the cabinet reshuffle that is expected in the coming days.

Through its congress, Ennahda undoubtedly wanted to give off the impression that its cadres and activists have reached the necessary level of maturity to permanently govern the country. The increasing threat represented by both the new "Nida Tunes" party [founded by Beji Caid Essebsi] and the gathering of political forces of the center and to the left of the political spectrum certainly has something to do with this.

It is too early to assess the impact of the Arab revolutions, but after more than a year of upheaval, an overview of the situation can be put together. Countries like Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya got rid of their tyrants. There, free elections were held there in a generally calm atmosphere, paving the way for democratization. This palpable and indisputable result is in itself a gain that at least two generations of those countries were ardently — yet prudently — hoping for. Freedom of the press and opinion is a common reality for countries which have freed themselves.

But it is not all good news: A rise in religious extremism is threatening Tunisia’s democratic breakthrough. Manifestations of intolerance against religious minorities are on the rise and women's rights are being jeopardized. Other reasons for concern are the erosion of the prestige of the state and a deteriorating economic situation.

It seems that once the cloak of dictatorship was lifted, states started to face great hardship in asserting their authority. In Libya for instance, despite the successful elections, the state is virtually absent and warlords are imposing their harsh rules on entire regions in the country. In Egypt, the tug-of-war, which is becoming increasingly intense, between the military council and the President-elect is not likely to consolidate the state apparatus. It is rather promising more chaos within the upper echelons of the state.

In Tunisia, the state is having trouble imposing order, as protests, civil disobedience, insubordination, and antisocial behavior acts multiply. At the economic level, social and political tensions are discouraging investors, whether local or foreign. The economies of these countries are heading towards stagnation, whose consequences are incalculable.

This means that history of Arab revolutions is far from being written, and that to make any prediction about their future developments is quite risky. However, one thing is for sure: the bloodshed in Syria, whose end is still not in sight, is giving the Arab Spring a bright red color, which no party seems to be able to solve. Whether or not thousands of women and children are paying a high price for a hypothetical democratization is worth it or not has yet to gain unanimity.

No obvious cause can be found for the fact that the cradle of Arab civilization, Syria, be buried under rubble simply to rid itself of a dictator. What are the real issues behind the tragedy unfolding in Syria? Behind this rebellion with many faces, there is but one macabre game of geopolitical appetites.

Is the Syrian revolution not an easy excuse to reshape a new Middle East that would suit the interests of Israel? The role of US vassal countries in the Arab world triggering the Arab revolutions must be investigated closely. While we await clear answers that will allow us to draw conclusions on these matters, we helplessly witness the events in Idlib, Homs or Treimesa, where the bloodbath will “water the fields” of our revolutions.

Found in: syrian crisis, syrian, rashid, rachid ghannouchi, ghannoushi, ennahda party, ennahda, arab spring, arab

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