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.