Have Tunisian Salafists written themselves out of the new constitution?

Tunisian Salafists demonstrated this weekend on Avenue Habib Bourguiba in central Tunis. Thousands of supporters rallied for the Quran, for the institution of Charia law, and to show Tunisians that they would not back down.

But the image that will remain for most Tunisians is one of a half dozen Salafists scaling the clocktower in front of the Ministry of the Interior and waving their black flags with the shahada. See above photo courtesy of Tunisia Live.

The government, led by moderate Islamist movement Ennahdha, has been walking a tightrope with Salafist groups. The Interior Minister told Le Monde last week that jihadist groups were the number one danger for Tunisia, but he was also careful to distinguish between Salafist groups and jihadist ones. Ennahdha leaders have told me that their goal is to not push these groups underground, but to neutralize them by allowing them to protest.

Nevertheless, Ennahdha seems to be feeling the pressure from ordinary Tunisians, who group both violent and non-violent fundamentalist groups as extremist. This might partly explain Ennahdha’s announcement today that it will leave the first article of the constitution as is. Article 1 has been the subject of debate, particularly for those who argue that it should include charia as the principle source of legislation.

The debate over charia is far from over. However, it appears that the more the Salafist are in the news, especially when they are allowed to deface public buildings, the less popular they become. The question is whether or not the public will continue to support Ennahdha’s “light touch” when it comes to these groups – or whether it will force Ennahdha to track further toward the center.

3 thoughts on “Have Tunisian Salafists written themselves out of the new constitution?

  1. This is completely wrong and insulated from the Tunisian reality. Like in Egpyt there is little doubt that the slafist movement will grow and ultimately come to occupy a significant second trend in the new Tunisian political arena. The moderate muslim position of the three ruling parties will hopefully continue to dominate the majority support. The more extreme secularist formulations like their current new leader are likely to only be short lived and will decline further into obscurity. So the real challenge is to have a carrot and stick approach. To invite salafist trends into political life and at the same time come down hard on lawbreakers or those moved to use violence.

    • Thanks for your comment. I’m curious which part do you think is divorced from reality? It seems that the Salafists suffered a major blow with Ennahdha’s announcement that it won’t implement sharia in the new constitution. While you may be right that Salafism will continue to grow, it doesn’t change the fact that the government isn’t acting in their favor with this announcement.

  2. Pingback: TS Update-(9/14…two year anniversary) | Tunisia Security Update

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