Post-revolt Tunisia wrestles with resurgent Islam

October 18, 2011

(Protesters wave flags and shout "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greatest) during a demonstration in Tunis October 14, 2011. The flags read "There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is His prophet''/Zoubeir Souissi)

For Walid, Tunisia’s revolution is an opportunity to turn one of the Arab world’s most secular countries towards Islam. “We paid a heavy price for the revolution so we are not ready to let secularists and supporters of the Zionists control our destiny,” said the young man, with a beard and a long white robe, after prayers in the Omrane district of the capital.

“We want to respect our religion and to apply Islamic law in our country. “We want Islamic schools all over the country … We do not want our women prevented from wearing the hijab and niqab (Islamic veils). We would like our country to be an Islamic country that does not allow taboo things, like wine.”

As Tunisia prepares to vote next weekend in the first election since the “Arab Spring” uprisings, people like Walid, a follower of the Salafist school which embraces a purist interpretation of Islam, are sending jitters through secular elites who fear their world could be about to change for ever.

It is a nervousness felt in Egypt and Libya where revolutions inspired by the one in Tunisia in January have handed power or influence to previously repressed groups who want Islam to play a bigger role in political life.

The Middle East is paying close attention to how Tunisia reconciles the conflicting agendas of Islamists and secularists following the ousting of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, and the evidence so far is that it will be a bumpy path. Police last week used tear gas to break up a crowd of thousands of Islamists who were trying to march on the prime minister’s office. Another crowd attacked the home of a businessman whose television station broadcast the award-winning film “Persepolis.” Islamists say one scene is blasphemous.

Read the full story by Tarek Amara here.


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