FaithWorld

Ennahda’s reformist Tunisian Islamism has a long paper trail

November 7, 2011

(Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of the Islamist Ennahda party, speaks during a news conference in Tunis October 28, 2011. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi)

The Islamist party Ennahda has sounded so moderate since winning Tunisia’s first free election last month that it can be hard to see what role religion plays in its political thinking.

Faced with fears they might foist strict Islamic sharia rules on this reform-minded Muslim country, Ennahda leaders insist the beer, bikinis and foreign banks the old secularist rulers allowed will still be welcome under an Islamist-led government.

The party, which won 41.7 percent of the vote for an assembly due to draw up a new constitution, says it will not write religion into the country’s laws and will focus instead on jobs for the unemployed and justice for all.

Ennahda founder and leader Rachid Ghannouchi says joining Islam and democracy is central to his political vision and can point to writings going back over three decades to prove it.

“There is some confusion in the West about Islamism,” he told Reuters. “Some confuse it with fundamentalism and link it to violence, extremism and takfir” — the radical Islamist practice of declaring other Muslims infidels worthy of death.

Ghannouchi, who at 70 looks back on a life of activism and prison in Tunisia and 22 years of exile in Britain, said he saw himself as a Muslim advocating “an applied version of Islam”.

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