More Thoughts on Tunisia

Jun 22

It has now been a little more than a week since my return from Tunisia.  And, like the views set forth in this column, I too find the question of France, and Tunisia’s relationship with France, to be an ominous cloud on the horizon, obscuring what I hope is Tunisia’s inevitable march toward democracy.

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Some Thoughts on the Secular-Religious Divide in Tunisia

Jun 09

Over the last three days (May 31-June 2), I have had the opportunity to discuss the Tunisian Revolution with several Tunisian intellectuals, both religious and secular.  And while it would be presumptuous of me to believe that in three days I am in a position to speak authoritatively about the significance of this divide, and what it means for the future of the Tunisian Revolution, I think it is possible to make a few tentative conclusions. On the positive side of the ledger, there appears to be a genuine desire from both the supporters of the Nahda and the secular parties to make this transition a successful one, despite the profound differences that separate the two sides.  The principle incentive these otherwise warring-sides have to reach some kind of détente that would allow for a modicum of democracy is the fear that Tunisia could relapse to the nightmare of Zayn al-ʻAbidin Ben Ali. 

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My Impression of al-Nahda

Jun 01

At 11:00 am today, I went to the new headquarters of the Tunisian political party, al-Nahda, and had the pleasure of witnessing Tunisian youth members of  “Sawty: Sawt Shabab Tunis (My Voice: The Voice of Tunisian Youth),” interview Hamadi el-Jabali and Ziyad al-Daulatli, both leaders of the Nahda Party.  The interview with Mr. Jabali was cut short after half an hour by what appeared to be an unexpected meeting that required Mr. Jabali’s immediate attention.  Thereafter, the youth were introduced to Mr. al-Daulatli who allowed the youth to question him on a wide variety of topics for almost two hours without interruption.  Without getting into the details of the discussion, I find it very difficult to believe that al-Nahda can be taken as a serious threat to democracy.  While by all appearances its leadership appears to be committed Muslims, they do not appear to be the kind of Muslims interested in imposing their beliefs on anyone.  In fact, I would say that any Egyptian government office that I have entered would have easily been more obviously “religious” in orientation than the Nahda’s official headquarters.  One thing that astonished me, for example, was the fact that the call to prayer was not even heard in their headquarters, much less was the meeting stopped to say Zuhr prayers.  This is hardly the behavior of a “fanatic” Islamist party, at least in my opinion. (Indeed, it is not at all unusual in Egypt, for example, to find that most government bureaucrats leave their desk to pray the Zuhr prayer; they are usually home by Asr time.)  Their rhetoric, moreover, continually emphasizes personal rights and freedoms, and that religious Tunisians religious and cultural rights should not be deemed any less worthy protection of Tunisians who are non-observant of Islamic norms.  Even were such rhetoric disingenuous, it has a price, and it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for them to climb down from the very strong claims they have made regarding the sacredness of Tunisians’ individual rights, including, their right to be bad Muslims. I heard that Yusuf al-Qaradawi will be visiting Tunisia next week, and it will be interesting to hear his perspective on al-Nahda’s proposed plan of governance and its intentional strategy of disclaiming any intent to apply Shari’a (which, in Tunisia, I have been told, means hudud and polygamy).

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