“If you are fools, try stopping us,” is the title of a campaign led by an extremist Islamist group in Tunisia. By fools, the group is referring to the Islamic Ennahda party and its government.
The paradox is that Ennahda Islamists doubted the presence of terrorist groups. They condemn the prevention of preaching campaigns and charity activities under the excuse that they are Islamic acts. But history repeats itself. The Islamist Ennahda government is currently the one setting the prohibitions.
Ansar al-Sharia described Ennahda leaders, like Sheikh Ghanouchi, as “tyrants dressed with the guise of Islam”Abdulrahman al-Rashed
What is prohibited today is the Ansar al-Sharia group. Its members are being deterred with the removal of tents that were set up for spreading their religious campaigns and distributing the Salafi movement’s leaflets.
The interior ministry has prohibited “all organizations, people or political parties from carrying out preaching activities in public places without a having a prior permit.”
Ansar al-Sharia described Ennahda leaders, like Sheikh Ghanouchi, as “tyrants dressed with the guise of Islam.” The group also warningly said: “[We] remind you that our youths who displayed heroism in defending Islam in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia, Iraq, Somalia and the Levant will never hesitate to make sacrifices for the sake of their religion in the land of Kairouan in Tunisia.”
When the government of Zein el-Abidine Ben Ali practiced similar acts of ending extremist religious groups’ gatherings and detaining their leaders, these groups became oppositional. They saw Ben Ali’s acts as dictatorial and said he was inventing crises to accuse Islamists of terrorism and prevent them from working in politics.
History repeats itself in Egypt
The situation is not exclusive to Tunisia. Take Egypt, the most populated country to have been part of the Arab Spring. Egypt too has begun to witness the beginning of confrontations between the Islamist Brotherhood cabinet and jihadist groups. The Egyptian interior minister rushed to announce that “the police busted, with an iron fist, a terrorist cell that was planning a suicide bombing and a conspiracy that would have ended up with attacking a foreign embassy.”
The Brotherhood too used to accuse Mubarak’s government, which they revolted against, of making up accusations against Islamist groups in order to justify besieging them. The Brotherhood used to believe all statements on terrorism conspiracies and on targeting Egyptian and foreign institutions were lies.
So how do these groups justify themselves now that they attained authority and now that they suffer from the same disease; religious extremism that attacks the entire society, not only the government? Most importantly, how do we foresee a future of fighting extremism and terrorism?
Governments that fought terrorism were accused of being on the side of the West and of acting out their campaign against Islam. Today, the governments that fight them raise the slogans of Islam; however they stand on the other side and consider them as extremist cases which getting rid of is a must. It is positive development, however, it is not void of opportunism. These groups desire to claim that they have become competent to get involved in the international community on the intellectual, political and democratic levels.
And the gratitude goes to extremist Salafi groups who through their gauche acts and extremist ideas ended up polishing the image of the Brotherhood and of groups similar.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on May 16, 2013.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.