Tunisia: From One Dictatorship To Another
by Anna Mahjar-Barducci
March 1, 2012 at 4:30 am
March 1, 2012 at 4:30 am
The Ennahda Party, elected to rule for one year, looks as if it is planning to stay a while.Voices of concern have been growing louder in Tunisia as the Islamist party, Ennahda, which won a relative majority and is presently leading the interim government coalition, is acting as though it is planning to stay a while longer than its allotted one year. Several Tunisian commentators have therefore begun wondering aloud whether the country has just switched from one dictatorship to another.
On October 23, 2011, Tunisia held the first free and democratic elections in the history of the country. Tunisian voters were called upon to elect 217 members of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA), whose task was to appoint an interim government, to draft a new constitution within a year, and to prepare the country for general election.
Recently, however, the media outlet africanmanager.com published an article by Khaled Boumiza, comparing the present Ennahda-led government to that of the former Tunisian dictator, Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali, to outline the authoritarian turn the country has been taking. "Ennahda resembles more and more the Ben Ali couple's regime … we can see that their [authoritarian] approach is the same and also the means that they use. Similarities are striking between the two."
According to Boumiza, one similarity is the "non separation between State and Party." Ben Ali was the president of his party, the Rally for Constitutional Democracy [RCD], and also the country's president, whereas the secretary-general of RCD became prime minister. Similarly, Hamadi Jbali was secretary-general of Ennahda before and after the revolution, and now that he is the prime minister, he still holds that position.
There is also the assumption of all the powers. One of Ben Ali's first acts was to amend the Constitution to concentrate all the powers in his hands. Likewise, Jbali, in assuming the position of PM, concentrated in his hands all the powers previously held by Ben Ali. The only difference is that now the strongman of the regime is the prime minister and not the president as it had been in Ben Ali's era.
Further, there is the threading of party representations throughout the country. Ben Ali had created a well-knit network of RCD party offices in the different regions of Tunisia in such a way that RCD became "the best social elevator of the country." This strong presence not only eliminated all possible political opposition, but at the same time promoted those people considered reliable by the regime. When Ennahda came to power it immediately dismantled all RCD structures, but it soon replicated them almost identically in all the cities and towns of Tunisia.
The RCD also had created the so-called "district committees," a form of security services that allowed the party to be informed about what was going on in the country. Likewise, Ennahda's Interior Minister has sent a letter to all governors and delegations to revive the "district committees." At the same time, the prime minister has created monitoring cells within all ministries. The idea, as in Ben Ali's time, is to place everywhere the "party's eyes and ears."
Another feature in common is the use of militant groups to sustain power. In the Ben Ali era, the RCD used to organize cheering crowds anywhere the president went. Whether there was a public speech or an "improvised" visit, the party sent buses loaded with supporters to cheer the president and deter any possible opponent. Likewise – according to Boumiza -- groups of Ennahda's supporters have been used to disrupt strikes and sit-ins by policemen and strikes or to counter anti-government rallies.
Silencing unfriendly press is yet another of these features. In 1987, when Ben Ali became president, he immediately started to apply censorship to journalists who were not aligned with the policies of his regime. A blacklist of unfriendly journalists was prepared, effectively silencing any sign of dissent. Similarly, a few weeks after his appointment as prime minister, Hammadi Jbali started a campaign against the media.
Boumiza concludes his article by saying that all these similarities reveal that after Ben Ali's departure, the culture of power is not dead. The present leadership has gone through a series of blunders, the most outstanding of which was evoking the establishment of a Caliphate. Ennahda has still to demonstrate that the democratic way in which the Islamist party was elected is also the way Tunisia is going to be governed going forward. So far it is not.
Tunisia's New Islamist Police
by Anna Mahjar-Barducci
February 29, 2012 at 4:00 am
February 29, 2012 at 4:00 am
"Women without a veil deserve to burn in hell." — Adel Almi, head of The Centrist Association for Awareness and Reform.An Islamic militia has been legalized in Tunisia. According to the Tunisian media outlet Kapitalis, the Tunisian Ministry of Interior, lead by Ali Larayedh, chairman of the ruling Islamist party, Ennahda, has given legal status to the "Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice," an Islamic religious police established after the Tunisian Revolution by self-appointed custodians of Islamic virtues. Kapitalis reports, however, that with the legalization, the name of the Committee was changed to the "Centrist Association for Awareness and Reform" to appear less radical to the Tunisian population.
The association is composed of three committees: one focuses on the Sharia ["The Way," or Islamic religious law]; one on religious "science" and the third on juridical matters. The Centrist Association declares that its objective is to call on citizens be righteous and to follow the rule of Sharia.
Before the Association was legalized, the Tunisian media were reporting that it was being formed by Salafists [followers of the extremely conservative form of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia], who aggressively intervene in public life by occupying mosques, and verbally and physically attacking women who did not abide by the dress code that they deemed sufficiently modest.
The media outlet Tunisia Live mentions that despite the Association's having changed its name to look moderate, it is highly radical. The head of the association, Adel Almi, was accused of having "attacked" Prof. Ikbal Gharbi, known for her liberal views. Lately, Almi has come under the spotlight after he decided to forbid Prof. Gharbi -- appointed by the government to the post of Director of the religious radio station, Zitouna FM from entering her office. The reason, according to Almi, was that Prof. Gharbi had no religious background, despite her being an eminent professor at the Theological Zitouna University in Tunis.
In reality, Almi objects to a woman being in charge of a religious radio station, and for being known as a reformer with a modernist interpretation of the Qur'an. Further, Prof. Gharbi does not wear the veil and Almi belives – as he said to the Tunisian radio Mosaïque FM - that women without a veil deserve to burn in hell. Members of the association have also been accused of harassing Tunisians on Facebook, asking to fight reformists, as Prof. Gharbi.
Now that the association has been given a legal status, Kapitalis wonders whether Tunisians' individual freedoms are going to be attacked. "Are the members of this new association going to be present in the public streets and question citizens perceived as not being Islamic righteous? Are the members of the association some sort of Saudi religious militia, charged with the task of directing the faithful towards the path of God? Wait and see," writes Kapitalis.
The Tunisian media outlet Investir en Tunisie reminds us that the religious police was created in Saudi Arabia in 1940 to implement Islamic rules and prescriptions, and that nowadays there are still countries with special police forces dedicated to coercing people into observing religious rules. But then Investir en Tunisie asks the central question: "Is this the fate of Tunisia? Is this post-revolutionary Tunisia?"
Tunisia: "Kill the Jews"
by Mohshin Habib
February 6, 2012 at 3:30 am
February 6, 2012 at 3:30 am
In Tunisia, the Islamist Ennahda party won the most votes, 41.7%, in last election, following the ouster of Tunisian long time president Zine Al-Abedin Ben Ali.
According to the January 31 BBC report, Attoun Khalifa, a senior figure of the Jewish community said, "I am a Tunisian Jew. I know my country well. I am against the proposition to leave because no one here is afraid. I do not tell Shalom where to go."
Gilles Jacob Lellouche, owner of a kosher restaurant said, "I am proud of being a Tunisian Jew. Where would I go -- to Europe? Come on, I am not stupid. To Israel? I am not that stupid either."
Earlier, as the only candidate not elected in the October 23 election, Lellouche said." I want to break the taboo that someone from a minority cannot get involved in politics."
Rabbi Daniel Cohen of the Beit Mordechai Synagogue said, "The problems between Israelis and Palestinians should not be a concern to such an extent that it has caused some people to become extremist and anti-Semitic." He added," I am sure the Tunisian Government does not want this to happen, as even Ennahda can not afford to have this kind of extremism take over a section of Tunisian community."
And an unnamed Jewish jeweler said on Tunisialivenet, "The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not our problem. I have grown up my whole life breaking bread with my Muslim neighbors, living freely with my Muslim friends."
For his part, Rashid Ghannouchi, the leader of the Ennahda Party said, "In our party's rules and in the country's constitution, it is important to emphasize that all our faiths and traditions are respected equally."
And last month the new President of Tunisia, Moncef Marzouki, asked the Tunisian Jews to return to the country.
In practice, however, the scenario is a bit different. During the recent welcomed visit of Ismail Haniyeh to Tunisia, the extremely conservative pro-Saudi Salafists chanted at the airport, "Kick the Jews -- it is our religious duty. Expel the Jews -- it is our religious duty. Kill the Jews -- it is our religious duty."
The Ennahda-backed government said in a press release that the slogans do not reflect Islam and its principles. But some reliable sources, such as Roger Bismuth, president of Tunisian Jewish community, observed that not only were the Salafists saying this, but Ennahda party supporters as well, who were also chanting, "Tuez les Juifs – Kill the Jews."
As the visit by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh was an official state visit -- he met Prime Minister Hamadi Jebani and other high officials -- many analysts strongly believe that in course of time, after their power is more solidly established, Rashid Ghanouchi and his Ennahda Party will reveal their true Islamist image.
Some observers are asking, "Is it possible for a Jewish community to live under an 'Arab democracy with Muslim coloring'?"
The Jewish people inherited Tunisia more than two thousand years back, after the dispersal of the Jews from what is now Israel in about 67 CE. Even more Jews came to Tunisia during the Spanish Inquisition in 1492. In 1956, at the time of independence from France, the local Jewish population numbered at least 100,000; but the new government imposed a series of anti-Jewish measures. In 1958, the Tunisian government abolished the Jewish Community Council and ordered the demolition of ancient Synagogues and cemeteries.
Since the rise of Islam in Tunisia, the Jews have been obliged to choose either conversion or submission to dhimmitude, the status of second-class citizens who, among many repressive rules, have to pay an extra "tax" [jizya] to buy "protection."
Similarly to what occurred in the World War I and World War II, there was a wide rumor in 1967 that Tunisian Jews had helped the French Army. Consequently there occurred a number of anti-Semitic acts: demonstrators stormed into the Synagogues and burned the holy Torah. Thus people gradually drove the Jews out of the land. Now, under the rule of new "Islamist-Democrats," there are fewer than 1,500 hundred Jews living in Tunisia.
It is a challenge to the only parliamentary republic, the Jewish-majority state of Israel, and the mainstream Jewish community that some of the Jewish Diaspora, especially the young generation do not care about their identity. Some neutral observers are nevertheless deeply concerned that every society can have different moods that turn on changing situations: What will happen to the Jewish Diaspora in Tunisia if, for example, Israel becomes involved in a state of war against any of its Muslim neighboring states? Tunisia is now totally under Islamic control. How much can anyone depend on Ennahda's oral commitment?
Jews were once deceived by the Germans (who are now trying to absorb some Sharia law into their country) who used the phrase "Arbeit Macht Frei" or "Work Shall Make You Free." But the world knows very well how millions of Jews were freed – from their lives.
Perhaps some of the learned people around the world will start to appreciate Silvan Shalom's beckoning.