Opinion

David Rohde

The Islamist Spring

David Rohde
Apr 5, 2012 20:50 UTC

TUNIS – Like it or not, this is the year of the Islamist.

Fourteen months after popular uprisings toppled dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, Islamist political parties – religiously conservative groups that oppose the use of violence – have swept interim elections, started rewriting constitutions and become the odds-on favorites to win general elections.

Western hopes that more liberal parties would fare well have been dashed. Secular Arab groups are divided, perceived as elitist or enjoy tepid popular support.

But instead of the political process moving forward, a toxic political dynamic is emerging. Aggressive tactics by hardline Muslims generally known as Salafists are sowing division. Moderate Islamists are moving cautiously, speaking vaguely and trying to hold their diverse political parties together. And some Arab liberals are painting dark conspiracy theories.

Ahmed Ounaies, a pro-Western Tunisian politician who briefly served as foreign minister in the country’s post-revolutionary government, said that he no long trusted Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of Tunisia’s moderate Islamist party. Echoing other secular Tunisians, he said some purportedly moderate Muslim leaders are, in fact, aligned with hardliners.

“We believe that Mr. Ghannouchi is a Salafist,” Ouanies said in an interview. “He is a real supporter of those groups.”

The Arab world’s Silicon Valley?

David Rohde
Mar 30, 2012 01:20 UTC

Update: At Leila Charfi’s request, I added a paragraph below and shortened her quote to give it more context. She was concerned that the original version highlighted the role of the Internet in Tunisia’s revolution but did not credit street protesters. At least 219 protesters died during the uprising, according to the UN.

TUNIS — Last November, dozens of young Arabs lined up for the chance to meet him. When he spoke of his struggles and triumphs, they hung on his every word. And when only one of the 50 attendees was chosen for training, some of the young Arabs grew frustrated and complained of being excluded.

A jihadist back from battling Americans in Afghanistan? A recruiter for al Qaeda’s North African affiliate? A Hamas member looking for volunteers to attack Israel?

Trust Tunisia

David Rohde
Oct 24, 2011 21:35 UTC

As the first elections of the post-Arab spring unfold over the next several weeks, you will be hearing the term “moderate Islamist” over and over again. Early results from elections in Tunisia suggest that the moderate Islamist Ennahda party is going to win the largest number of seats in a new assembly that will rewrite the constitution, choose a new interim government and set dates for parliamentary and presidential elections. Members of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood who have also been described as moderate Islamists are expected to fare well in similar elections there in November. And Islamists play a growing role in Libya’s transitional council as well.

The Islamist parties insist that they have renounced violence, fully embrace democracy and will abide by the electoral process. Secular Tunisians, Egyptians and Libyans, as well as some western pundits, warn that the Islamist parties are a Trojan Horse. Once Islamists take power, they will refuse to relinquish it and forcibly implement conservative Islam in all three countries.

What is striking is the silence emanating from Washington and other western capitals.

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