FaithWorld

Tunisia needs separation of mosque and state – religaffairs min

tunis secular

(Tunisians march against Islamists and for interfaith harmony in Tunis, February 19, 2011. The protesters' T-shirts in Arabic read: "Tunisia secular", the sign on top reads: "Tunisia for all" and the sign on bottom left in French reads: "Terrorism is not Tunisia"/Zoubeir Souissi)

Tunisia’s revolution is unlikely to trigger Islamic militancy in the traditionally secular state, but Muslim leaders should avoid mixing religion with politics, the government’s minister of religious affairs said.

“After the January 14 revolution, the country experienced change on every level, including the religious sphere,” Aroussi Mizouri, minister of religious affairs in the caretaker government, told Reuters. “Today, there is no restriction on speech in the mosques. But they should not become platforms for political ideology,” he said in an interview this week. “We are counting on everyone to keep our society open and tolerant.”

Religious tensions have been on the rise in the normally sleepy Mediterranean country, with anti-Islamist protests clogging central Tunis last weekend after a flurry of pro-Islamist demonstrations. The murder of a priest and reports of threats against Tunisia’s small Jewish community have also raised concerns among moderate Tunisians, worried that a post-revolution security vacuum could encourage religiously-motivated crime.

“I think that the coexistance of all religions in Tunisia will continue always, and the Jewish and Christian minorities will always have the respect of Tunisia,” Mizouri said. “They have and always will be a part of Tunisian society.”

Tunis march against Islamists, for harmony after Polish priest murdered

tunis secular

(Tunisians march against Islamists and for interfaith harmony in Tunis, February 19, 2011. The protesters' T-shirts in Arabic read: Tunisia secular", the sign on top reads: "Tunisia for all" and the sign on bottom left in French reads: "Terrorism is not Tunisia"/Zoubeir Souissi)

About 15,000 demonstrators have protested in Tunis against the country’s Islamist movement, calling for religious tolerance a day after the Interior Ministry announced a Polish Catholic priest had been murdered by an extremist group.

“We need to live together and be tolerant of each other’s views,” said Ridha Ghozzi, 34, who was among the protesters carrying signs and chanting slogans on Saturday including “Terrorism is not Tunisian” and “Religion is Personal”.

Banned Islamists say time for change in Morocco

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(A mosque in Ksar el Kebir February 5, 2008/Rafael Marchante)

The banned Islamist group Justice and Charity, believed to be Morocco’s biggest opposition force, has said “autocracy” will be swept away unless the country pursues deep democratic reform.

The group of Sufi inspiration is believed to have 200,000 members, most of whom are university students, and is active mainly in the poor districts of some cities. Banned from politics, its avowed aim is to achieve a peaceful transition to a pluralist political system inspired by Islam.

In a statement posted on its website late on Sunday, Justice and Charity said the unrest in Egypt and Tunisia left “no place today for distortions … and empty, false promises… The gap between the ruler and the ruled has widened and confidence is lost … The solution is either a deep and urgent democratic reform that ends autocracy and responds to the needs and demands of the people, or the people take the initiative and (it) erupt peacefully … to sweep autocracy away.”

Concern about Islamists masks wide differences among them

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(Hamas supporters hold up copies of the Koran at a protest in Gaza City December 26, 2010/Mohammed Salem)

Part of the problem trying to figure out what Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood or Tunisia’s Ennahda party would do if they got into any future power structure in their countries is knowing what kind of Islamists they are. The label “Islamist” pops up frequently these days, in comments and warnings and (yes) news reports, but the term is so broad that it even covers groups that oppose each other. Just as the Muslim world is not a bloc, the Islamist world is not a bloc.

I sketched out a rough spectrum of Islamists in an analysis today entitled  Concern about Islamists masks wide differences. This topic is vast and our story length limits keep the analysis down to the bare bones. But the overall point should be clear that any analysis of what these specific parties might do that ignores their diversity starts off on the wrong foot and risks ending up with the wrong conclusions.

Interview -Tunisian Islamists say they’re excluded, call for unity govt.

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(Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi speaks during an interview with Reuters in Tunis February 3, 2011/Louafi Larbi )

Tunisia’s Islamists have been shut out of the interim government, Islamist leader Rachid Ghannouchi said, calling for a cabinet that brings together all parties and for the dismantling of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s police state. Banned for over 20 years, his Ennahda (Arab for “Renaissance”) party applied this week for a license and will take part in Tunisia’s first free elections, though Ghannouchi himself has pledged not to run for any office.

“No one invited us and no one consulted us over the make-up of this government… We don’t know who made up this government, who chose these people, what their authority is, who they answer to,” Ghannouchi told Reuters in an interview. “We called for a government of national alliance comprised of opposition parties and civil society organisations such as the labour union, lawyers and rights groups, a government that… is not imposed like this.”

Can Arabs learn from Turkish model of Islam and democracy?

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(Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, December 2, 2008/Umit Bektas)

If President Hosni Mubarak bows to the clamor of the street and goes, Egyptians and other Arabs seeking to turn a page on autocratic government may look at Turkey for some clues on marrying Islam and democracy.

Relatively stable, with a vibrant economy and ruled by a conservative and pragmatic government led by former Islamists, Turkey has often been cited as a model Muslim democracy and a linchpin of Western influence in the region.

Islamists emerge as powerful force in the new Tunisia

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(Supporters welcome home Rachid Ghannouchi at the airport in Tunis January 30, 2011. The sign reads: "No fear of Islam"/Louafi Larbi)

They are at pains to assure Tunisians this is no Islamic revolution. They do not seek the presidency. They will run alongside other groups in the democracy that replaces Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali’s police state.

Tunisia’s main Islamist group may not have played any role in the revolution that toppled Ben Ali after 23 years, but any doubt that Ennahda would emerge as one of the largest players was dispelled with the return of its leader Rachid Ghannouchi.

Factbox: Who is Tunisia’s Islamist leader Rachid Ghannouchi?

Rachid Ghannouchi, the head of Tunisia’s main Islamist Ennahda movement returns on Sunday to the country from which he was exiled 22 years ago.

Below are some facts on Ghannouchi and his party Ennahda. Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi (C) welcomed on arrival in Tunis January 30, 2011/Louafi Larbi

Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi (C) welcomed on arrival in Tunis January 30, 2011/Louafi Larbi

* Ghannouchi is a respected Muslim scholar who went into exile in London in 1989. Now 69, Ghannouchi is widely considered to be a moderate who believes that Islam and democracy are compatible.

Tunisian Islamists show strength at chief’s return

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(Photo: Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi (C, with red scarf) is welcomed by supporters upon his arrival in Tunis January 30, 2011/Louafi Larbi)

Thousands of Tunisians turned out on Sunday to welcome home an Islamist leader whose return from 22 years of exile indicated that his party would emerge as a major force in Tunisia after the ousting of its president.

The reception for Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the Ennahda party, at Tunis airport was the biggest showing by the Islamists in two decades, during which thousands of them were jailed or exiled by president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

Analysis: What role for the Islamists in the new Tunisia?

tunisia flag (Photo: Shadows of protesters on the Tunisian flag, in Tunis January 15, 2011/Zohra Bensemra)

For years they were jailed or exiled. They were excluded from elections, banned from politics, and played no visible role in Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution. But in the brave new world of multi-party politics, moderate Islamists could attract more followers than their secular rivals like to admit.

And the downfall of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s police state may leave Tunisia open to infiltration by extremists from neighboring Algeria, where war between authorities and Islamists has killed 200,000 people in the last two decades.

“The Islamist movement was the most oppressed of all the opposition movements under Ben Ali. Its followers are also much greater in number than those of the secular opposition,” said Salah Jourchi, a Tunisian expert on Islamic movements. “Its effect could be large.”