Tunisia: Have the Islamists learnt their lesson?
The Tunisian politically developed arena allows everyone to co-exist
The situation in Tunisia could have ended up mirroring either the Libyan or the Egyptian scenario if the Ennahda Movement and Islamist groups did not realize that political participation means accepting all democratic conditions and not just counting the voting ballots. Tunisia has had its share of difficult experiences during the transitional phase; prominent political figures were assassinated for their mere criticism of extremist groups. The situation reached the tipping point of chaos and violence.
The politically developed Tunisian arena allows everyone to co-exist and to choose their lifestyle without imposing it on othersAbdulrahman al-Rashed
However, Tunisians have a rich civil experience that saved them - the legacy of the late Habib Bourguiba who established a civil culture based on justice, laws and on mutual respect. This culture obstructed religious fascist movements who sought to take over governance by using democracy and disrespecting its rules - just as similar groups have done in Egypt and just as other groups are currently doing in Libya in their bid to forcefully take over the parliament and presidency.
Concept of inclusiveness
I think Ennahda, which is considered one of the most moderate Islamist groups which understands the concept of inclusiveness, was not completely innocent or perfect as a movement. A subgroup within it pushed it to seek domination and power while another subgroup was really ready for democratic participation and respected the democratic guidelines of freedom, regulations and submission to voters. Within Ennahda, there are also those who wear the turban of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s chief who believes in the oneness of the party, absolute power, domination over state institutions and elimination of others – just as the extremists of the Muslim Brotherhood did in Egypt. Fortunately for Ennahda itself, this latter movement - which subscribes to Baghdadi’s intellect - failed and the rest learnt their lesson from what happened to their Egyptian comrades who lost governance one year after assuming power via the elections simply because their sole aim was to attain power. Their comrades in Libya also failed after resorting to violence to gain power by force.
I highly doubt religious parties’ abilities to get involved in civil political life and the evidence is obvious when we look at how such parties failed in Iran, Sudan, Gaza, Egypt and Libya. Those parties that came to power in the name of democracy later turned into a fierce dictatorship. Despite that, the Tunisian experience may be the only one with the chance of succeeding because there are moderate movements and politically intellectual ones too. The extremist movement in Tunisia has also tried its luck and failed during the reign of the previous parliament - it tried to adopt laws that restrained freedoms and that deprived women of the rights which they gained during the past half century and tried to end the Tunisian culture’s diversity and openness. However, extremists failed at most of their parliamentary plans and when the elections were held, most of the Tunisian people stood against their management of the state.
The politically developed Tunisian arena allows everyone to co-exist and to choose their lifestyle without imposing it on others. If Ennahda followers can co-exist with this concept by respecting others’ choices, then they will have passed the democratic test. However, if they continue to think that the final goal is to win in order to dominate, then this is just a temporary truce until the next elections.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on December 25, 2014.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former 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.
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