FaithWorld

Tunisian secularists nervous over slow change, concerned about Islamists

(Protests in Tunis July 7, 2011 after Islamists attacked a cinema to protest a controversial film called "Neither God nor master"/Zoubeir Souissi)

Secularists hope Tunisia’s gradual approach for moving to an open political system from a police state will help box in Islamists but it has created a political and security vacuum that could end up helping them. Tunisians forced out president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali via street protests in December and January, and over 90 political parties have sprung up in the newly freed public space.

Secular parties, policy-makers and Western powers are preparing for a future where the leading Islamist party Ennahda, driven abroad and underground by Ben Ali, is a key force in the North African country but working out how to limit its impact.

“There are colossal suspicions about Ennahda. No one believes their commitment to democracy and pluralism. Their discourse in Arabic is very different to their discourse in French, particularly in rural areas,” said George Joffe, a politics professor at Cambridge University. He said the fear was not just of its Islamist platform but of a gradual slip into the one-party authoritarianism of the previous era if one better-organized group dominates.

It is partly because of these concerns that Tunisia is taking its time before getting to any elections. Elections for a constituent assembly to write a new constitution have been delayed to October, and there is no timeframe for parliamentary and presidential elections that follow.

Egyptian Islamists won’t cap ambitions forever, Brotherhood leader says

brotherhood banner

(Egyptians walk under a banner by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood calling for a "yes" vote in a referendum on constitutional changes in Cairo March 18, 2011/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

The Muslim Brotherhood is not planning to seek power in Egypt’s elections this year but says it will not limit its political ambitions forever and wants secular parties to get organised to foster true competition.

“Everyone must act so we can reach the point where we become like the rest of the countries in the world, with three or four strong parties,” said Mohamed el-Beltagi, a Brotherhood leader.

“The Jury is Out”: WikiLeaks shows U.S. trying to understand Islam in Turkey

turkey 3 (Photo: A commuter ferry sails past the Blue Mosque in Istanbul September 4, 2010/Osman Orsal)

The WikiLeaks documents from the U.S. embassy in Ankara show several attempts by American diplomats to understand the role of Islam and the Islamic world in the political stand of the governing AK Party of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. Their efforts can be summarised in a subtitle of a cable in 2007 purporting to show “the truth behind the AKP’s “secret Islamic agenda.” It said simply: The Jury is Out.”

Following are some interesting excerpts, with links to the full documents:

20 Jan 2010 — WHAT LIES BENEATH ANKARA’S NEW FOREIGN POLICY

1. (C) There is much talk in chanceries and in the international media these days about Turkey’s new, highly activist foreign policy …  The ruling AKP foreign policy is driven by both a desire to be more independently activist, and by a more Islamic orientation…

turkey 52. (C) Does all this mean that the country is becoming more focused on the Islamist world and its Muslim tradition in its foreign policy? Absolutely. Does it mean that it is “abandoning” or wants to abandon its traditional Western orientation and willingness to cooperate with us? Absolutely not. At the end of the day we will have to live with a Turkey whose population is propelling much of what we see …  Turkey will remain a complicated blend of world class “Western” institutions, competencies, and orientation, and Middle Eastern culture and religion.

Factbox – Planned protests during pope’s visit to Britain

pope visit image (Photo: Official papal visit memorabilia at Catholic bookshop in London September 15, 2010/Toby Melville)

Demonstrations are planned for Pope Benedict’s four-day state visit to England and Scotland, with the main focus likely to be on a Protest the Pope campaign march in central London Saturday, Sept 18.

Other separate protests are planned, including a bus poster campaign by a group supporting women’s ordination and a silent witness by the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland.

Here is an outline of some of the main protests likely to take to the streets:

* VICTIMS OF CHILD ABUSE:

– The American group SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, say they will demonstrate with posters. A handful will fly over to join victims in England and Scotland.