Arguing for moderation in Tunisian politics

In recent weeks, Tunisians have more and more expressed dismay over the increasingly polarized political and cultural scene. On the right, Islamists express dismay and consternation over the left’s refusal to join forces to move the country forward. On the left, secularists worry that Salafists and other extremists are manipulating the ruling party, Ennahdha, and that they are the last bulwark against a return to dictatoship.

Two voices today argue that Tunisians need to take a step back and realize who the real enemy is and what the goals of the Tunisian revolution should be.

Islamist philosopher Tarek Ramadan, after a visit to the country which was widely acclaimed last month, argues that the ingredients are there for Tunisia to succeed, but all stakeholders need to move away from binary debates and needless polarizations.

What is the future of a Tunisia shaken by the heated exchanges between secularists, reformist Islamists and Salafis? Some actors are clearly manipulating that fear: showing Islamists, all lumped together as one, as dangerous fundamentalists who would surely plunge the country into the dark abyss of theocracy. At the other extreme, there is the Salafi movements that draw a portrait of evil secularists, “opposed to religion,” lackeys of the West and dangerous to Tunisia by the mere fact of being French speakers. [These] radically different messages [are] mostly superficial and dangerous. They are often recorded, and reported widely by the media. They make headlines and form a distorted perception of the Tunisian reality. Because in the end, when you listen to the people, elites, students as well as ordinary citizens, we see that the majority of Tunisians are not carried away by this unhealthy polarization and have a more reasonable  and open attitude about what  the identity and future of the country should be…

….All social, cultural, economic and political actors in Tunisia have the responsibility to leave behind unnecessary and counterproductive polarizations and commit to solving the real internal, regional and international problems. We must go forward in the reform of the political system, reorganization of the judiciary. The fight against corruption, cronyism and insecurity is paramount. Tunisia has discovered endemic poverty and its school system is both failed and discriminatory.

Salah Oueslati writes in Kapitalis today that the real divisions in Tunisia are between those who want a dictatorship and those who want freedom, not between Islamists and non-Islamists.

The real divisions today are between, on one side, those who struggle for freedom, dignity, human rights and democracy, and, on the other, those who wish to return to dictatorship or the establishment by force of an obscurantist theocracy foreign to our history, our traditions and our culture. The latter have never made any secret of their intention and have loudly proclaimed that they are against democracy. These are the very people that are the champions of moral absolutism and show their determination to gain political power by force in order to impose religious morality by law, transforming religious political ideology. These are the very ones who invite preachers to indoctrinate our youth and encourage the occupation of mosques by extremist imams. These are the very people who form militias to intimidate and silence any dissenting voice. They are more motivated by revenge on society than a desire to build a new one….

….Remember that the cleavage is not between Islamists and non-Islamists, it is between those who seek freedom, democracy and dignity and those who want a return to dictatorship, whether secular or religious. We must first work together to combat internal and external enemies of the revolution.

4 thoughts on “Arguing for moderation in Tunisian politics

  1. I attended Prof Ramadan’s lecture on Sunday 26 February, and can confirm that he spoke passionately there against polarization and firmly in support of learning to listen as well as speak to one another. I mentioned this briefly in my most recent blog post, and am glad to see he followed up with this article. There’s quite a fair summary of his visit on page 10 of today’s Tunis Hebdo by Abbes Ben Mahjouba.

  2. You hit the nail on the head Kefteji. I think the real cleavage is between the forces of progressism and modernism and the forces of obscurantism and the slippery slope actions of the so called “moderate” Islamic movements.
    I decry the amount of polarization that gripped the country as this endless debate regarding secularism, religiosity and national identity. The fundamental discourse should focus on the urgent and the immediate, ( I.e. Solving the economic inequalities, dealing with youth unemployment…) Unfortunately, all I hear is this bickering ……
    Hassen from Chicago.

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