“You shall know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16)
The much-trumpeted Arab Spring is shaping up to be an Arab Winter.
In the liberated Egypt and Libya, Sharia law will rule. Now, Islamic radicals have claimed victory in the first democratic election of Libya’s neighbor, Tunisia.
Tunisia was the birth-place of “Arab Spring” when Mohamed Bouazizi, a vegetable seller in a provincial town, set fire to himself in protest at poverty and government repression. His action provoked a wave of protests which, weeks later, forced autocratic president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia.
The revolution in Tunisia, a former French colony, inspired uprisings which forced out entrenched leaders in Egypt and Libya, and convulsed Yemen and Syria — re-shaping the political landscape of the Middle East.
“The first confirmed results show that Ennahda has obtained first place,” campaign manager Abdelhamid Jlazzi said outside party headquarters in the center of the Tunisian capital.
As he spoke, a crowd of people in the street shouted “Allahu Akbar!” or “God is great!” Other people started singing the Tunisian national anthem.
Mindful that some people in Tunisia and elsewhere see Islamists as a threat to modern, liberal values, the party official stressed Ennahda would wield its power in a responsible and inclusive way.
“We will spare no effort to create a stable political alliance in the constituent assembly. We reassure the investors and international economic partners,” Jlazzi said.
Even if its victory is confirmed when official results from the vote — the first democratic election in Tunisia’s history — are released, Ennahda will still have to share power with other, secularist parties.
Sunday’s vote was for an assembly which will sit for one year to draft a new constitution. It will also appoint a new interim president and government to run the country until fresh elections late next year or early in 2013.
Ennahda is led by Rachid Ghannouchi, a scholar who was forced into exile in Britain for 22 years because of harassment by Ben Ali’s police. He is at pains to stress his party will not enforce any code of morality on Tunisian society. He models his approach on the moderate Islamist of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.
But the party’s resurgence is met with ambivalence by some people in Tunisia. The country’s strong secularist traditions go back to first post-independence President Habiba Bourguiba who called the hijab, or Islamic head scarf, an “odious rag.”
A crowd of about 50 people gathered late on Monday outside the offices of the electoral commission, demanding an investigation into what it said were irregularities committed by Ennahda.
A leading secularist challenger to Ennahda, the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) conceded defeat. It had warned voters that modern, liberal values would be threatened if the Islamists won. “The PDP respects the democratic game. The people gave their trust to those it considers worthy of that trust. We congratulate the winner and we will be in the ranks of the opposition,” a party statement sent to Reuters said.
Here’s what Wikipedia says about the Ennahda or Renaissance Party:
- It supported the 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran.
- Although traditionally shaped by the thinking of radical Muslim ideologue Sayyid Qutb and Maududi, the party began to be described as “moderate Islamist” in the 1980s when it advocated democracy and a “Tunisian” form of Islamism recognizing political pluralism and a “dialogue” with the West.
- Critics charge that one of Ennahda’s main leaders, named Rashid Al-Ghannushi, had a history of violence.
- In the 1989 elections, the party was banned from participating. In 1991, President Ben Ali jailed 25,000 Ennahda activists. Ennahda militants attacked the ruling party headquarters killing one person and splashing acid in the faces of several others. The party was legalized on 1 March 2011.
- The party is generally described as socially centrist with mild support for economic liberalism (free market). The party says it wants Islam in public life; that it will be more accommodating to other viewpoints such as closer relations with the West and greater economic freedom; and currently rejects radical Islamism as a form of governance for Tunisia.