Tunisia’s secularists must reconcile ideology with reality

When Tunisia’s founding president Habib Bourguiba (right) was asked “Are you for laïcité [French secularity]?” he answered that he was “not Ataturk.”

He was affirming a policy of reconciliation between Islam and modernity rather than a strict secularist approach aiming for the separation of religion and politics, says Montassar Jemmali, founder of the Tunisian League of Young Patriots. In fact, President Bourguiba often relied on Quranic verses and prophetic Hadith in his political speeches, and he consulted with sheikhs of the prominent al-Zaytuna mosque to support his political decisions, he writes for Fikra Forum.

Religion is important to Tunisians, most of whom are Muslim, and for whom the mosque represents a part of their identity,” he notes, suggesting that Tunisia’s secularists need to update Bourguiba’s reconciliation of Islam and modernity:

Secularist parties in Tunisia will certainly play an important role in defending the country’s modernist stance. Even if they remain in the opposition, they have the capacity to exercise oversight of the government. However, in the long run, Tunisian society will continue to witness great transformations. If the secularist factions and intellectual elites remain removed from the realities of the Tunisian population, there is a good chance that they will become politically obsolete.


Montassar Jemmali is a member of the International Youth Council and the founder of the League of Young Patriots in Tunisia.

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Albert Camus anticipated Arab Spring?

“The Arab people,” Albert Camus wrote in Algerian Chronicles, “wanted the right to vote because they knew that, with it, and through the free exercise of democracy, they could eliminate the injustices that are poisoning the political climate of Algeria today.”

Substitute “Egypt” or “Tunisia” at the end of that sentence and Camus could be writing about today’s Middle East, Jason Berry writes for Salon.

“The Arab spring channeled Camus’s understanding of rebellion. An individual being treated as less than human stands his ground, saying ‘that’s enough, I will resist this outrage, this assault on my integrity has to stop,’” Robert Zaretsky, the author of A Life Worth Living and a history professor at the University of Houston, told GlobalPost.

Syria ‘the new Balkans’

“For Camus, it’s so critical to find that moment when the individual discovers there are others who are saying the same thing and act upon that recognition. It’s something we all have in common, our integrity, our dignity. What those qualities demand in others is that you resist, never lose sight of humanity. The oppressor is as human as the colonized; pushing back is essential, while not turning into an oppressor or killer yourself.”

“Apart from Tunisia, the other iterations of Arab spring have failed,” said Zaretsky. “They’ve resulted in either autocracies returning to power, as in Egypt, or civil war — think of Syria. The protest against Assad in the opening stage was a rebellion of the kind Camus had in mind – peaceful, you don’t take another’s life unless there’s no other choice. Now the country has been reduced to the new Balkans.”


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Is Erdogan a democrat? Turks resent ‘rising authoritarian style’

Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, “has alienated large portions of the population for his seeming intrusions into private lives,” The New York Times’s Tim Arango reports from Istanbul 

He has told women how many children they should have, has sought to outlaw abortion and adultery and to limit alcohol consumption and once, oddly, went on a public tirade against white bread. …Many Turks who had once supported Mr. Erdogan’s democratic overhauls, like securing civilian control over the military, came to see such pronouncements as grating and abrasive, even evidence of a rising authoritarian style.  

Erdogan and his Islamist-oriented Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., this week courted further by calling for a ban on coed dormitories at state universities and off-campus housing.

The Turkish premier reportedly told a weekly meeting of A.K.P. parliamentarians: “Anything can happen. Then parents cry out, saying, ‘Where is the state?’ These steps are being taken in order to show that the state is there. As a conservative, democratic government, we need to intervene.”

“We are face to face with a prime minister who thinks it is his right to impose his moral sentiment into our homes, and control our personal space with his governors and his police,” wrote analyst Ezgi Basaran.

“For all the A.K.P.’s illiberal tendencies, it is worth remembering that the staunchly secular pre-Erdogan era, which some nostalgic Turks still portray as a bygone democratic idyll, was in fact much less free in almost all respects,” notes Mustafa Akyol, the author of Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty:

Contrary to the alarmism of those who long for the old days and attack the current government at every opportunity, Turkey is not on the path to becoming another Iran or Saudi Arabia — or something like Vladimir Putin’s Russia. But it certainly is not a fully liberal democracy yet.

To make it one, Mr. Erdogan and his allies must accept that they can’t advance democracy merely by taking pride in correcting the misdeeds of their predecessors. They also have to look hard at their decade-old rule, recognize their mistakes and then correct them.

The A.K.P. is also experiencing increasingly “sharp divides within the party,” Arango writes for The Times:

There is a decided split between those who support Mr. Erdogan unconditionally and those who are more moderate, who line up behind the more conciliatory president, Abdullah Gul, and share some of the concerns voiced by the protesters.

Those concerns have been highlighted by the furor over the prime minister’s comments on coed dormitories and his style. Another A.K.P. constituency, followers of the Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, is said to be deeply ambivalent about backing Mr. Erdogan in future elections.


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