Today there will be an Ennahdha manifestation at 14 PM in Tunis.
All through the country a lot of their offices have been burned down and people are speaking out against them loud and clear. They're called the "sold-to-Qatar-ones". Only real die hard islamists are on their side. As most Tunisians are Malakite-sunni's (not like in Saoudi Arabia, or in Qatar where they are wahabi's) it is most unlikely that Ennahdha will be able to stay in the political scenery, their leader Ghannouchi being outed now as not caring about the well being of the country and even rejecting his own PM who wants to save the country by setting up a technocrate's provisory government and elections as soon as possible.
THE Islamist-led government that has been running Tunisia for the past year has been badly shaken by the assassination on February 6th of a prominent secular-minded opposition leader, Chokri Belaid, who was shot dead outside his house in Tunis by assailants so far unknown. After a wave of angry protests erupted in the capital and across the country, the prime minister, Hamadi Jebali, who is also secretary-general of the Islamist Nahda party, condemned the murder as an “act of terrorism…against the whole of Tunisia” and said he would form a new government “of competent figures without party affiliations”. The event has sparked Tunisia’s worst crisis since the revolution that toppled the country’s long-serving, secular-minded dictator, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who fled into exile in January 2011.
It was unclear if Mr Jebali’s hasty reaction meant that Nahda, which handsomely won an election to a constituent assembly in October, 2011, would actually cede power or whether there would merely be a government reshuffle; it already heads a three-party coalition that includes non-Islamists. Mr Jebali has urged the constituent assembly to hurry up and finish the writing of a new constitution so that there can be a fresh election to a proper parliament as soon as possible, perhaps by the end of June.
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The secular opposition, which is striving to present a united front, has called for a completely “new government”. It has suspended its participation in the constituent assembly and called a general strike to coincide with Mr Belaid’s funeral on February 8th.
Bad blood between the Islamists and more secular-leaning Tunisians has been stirring dangerously in the past few months. Many Tunisians who fear a creeping Islamisation of society have been quick to blame Nahda for complicity in Mr Belaid’s assassination.
In the past few months Islamist thugs have been taking the law into their own hands. Neighbourhood “committees to defend the revolution”, often including Nahda members who were political prisoners under Mr Ben Ali, have been accused of trying to intimidate opposition parties and have incurred growing hostility from more secular types. In December they violently broke up a trade-union rally.
Nahda has been accused of pandering to other groups of fringe Islamist extremists, who have gone out of their way, among other acts of intolerance, to attack ancient shrines long venerated by Tunisians, deeming them to be idolatrous. Since the revolution of 2011, at least 40 have been set alight or damaged.
Last month a clutch of Tunisians gathered in a courtyard of the Medina, the capital’s old city, to mark the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday with chants, drums and the clatter of iron castanets. They were honouring Sidi Ali Lasmar, a local saint venerated since the 18th century. Cowrie shells, a sequinned fish and the Tunisian flag decorate the walls of his shrine. Mixing elements of African culture from south of the Sahara, the cult has long held an exotic appeal for many people in Tunis.
At the other end of the alley, a vanload of police was poised to ward any Islamist extremists off. The veneration of local saints across north Africa harks back to pre-Islamic Berber and sub-Saharan cultures. Muslim reformists in 19th-century Tunisia dismissed such traditions as demeaning and superstitious. Under Habib Bourguiba, the country’s first president after its independence from France in 1956, many shrines were turned into museums, cultural centres or even cafés.
Others were officially tolerated for giving succour to people with medical or psychological worries. Nahda, which is close to the Muslim Brotherhood, has proclaimed an “Arab and Islamic identity”, implying distaste for shrine worship. But the desecrations obliged them to declare their respect for Tunisia’s diverse cultural and ethnic heritage.
Mr Belaid’s murder has dramatically raised the political temperature. Nahda, which has been sending out mixed signals, has been losing popularity. If Mr Jebali keeps his post, he and his Nahda colleagues will have to move fast to dispel suspicions that they are lenient towards violent Islamists. Unless they do so, Tunisia, once the most hopeful of the Arab countries to undergo revolution, could slide into instability. For Islamists, in Tunisia and beyond, it has raised fears that the Arab awakening that began in Tunisia more than two years ago could turn into an Arab nightmare. From the print edition: Middle East and Africa
Violent tide of Salafism threatens the Arab spring
A series of repressive dictatorships have been brought down in north Africa, but the ensuing struggles for power have left a vacuum that has allowed the rise of an extremist movement that is gathering both force and supporters
Late last year, largely unnoticed in the west, Tunisia's president, Moncef Marzouki, gave an interview to Chatham House's The World Today. Commenting on a recent attack by Salafists – ultra-conservative Sunnis – on the US embassy in Tunis, he remarked in an unguarded moment: "We didn't realise how dangerous and violent these Salafists could be … They are a tiny minority within a tiny minority. They don't represent society or the state. They cannot be a real danger to society or government, but they can be very harmful to the image of the government."
It appears that Marzouki was wrong. Following the assassination of opposition leader Chokri Belaid last Wednesday – which plunged the country into its biggest crisis since the 2011 Jasmine Revolution – the destabilising threat of violent Islamist extremists has emerged as a pressing and dangerous issue.
Violent Salafists are one of two groups under suspicion for Belaid's murder. The other is the shadowy, so-called neighbourhood protection group known as the Leagues of the Protection of the Revolution, a small contingent that claims to be against remnants of the old regime, but which is accused of using thugs to stir clashes at opposition rallies and trade union gatherings.
The left accuses these groups of affiliation with the ruling moderate Islamist party, Ennahda, and say it has failed to root out the violence. The party denies any link or control to the groups. But it is the rise of Salafist-associated political violence that is causing the most concern in the region. Banned in Tunisia under the 23-year regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, which ruthlessly cracked down on all forms of Islamism, Salafists in Tunisia have become increasingly vocal since the 2011 revolution.
The Salafist component in Tunisia remains a small minority, but it has prompted rows and mistrust among secularists and moderate Islamists. The Salafists are spread between three broad groups: new small political movements that have formed in recent months; non-violent Salafis; and violent Salafists and jihadists who, though small in number, have had a major impact in terms of violent attacks, arson on historic shrines or mausoleums considered to be unorthodox, demonstrations against art events – such as the violence at last summer's Tunis Arts Spring show, which was seen to be profane – and isolated incidents of attacking premises that sell alcohol outside Tunis.
It is not only in Tunisia. In Egypt, Libya and Syria, concern is mounting about the emergence of violent fringe groups whose influence has already been felt out of all proportion to their size.
In Egypt last week, it was revealed that hardline cleric Mahmoud Shaaban had appeared on a religious television channel calling for the deaths of main opposition figures Mohammed ElBaradei – a Nobel peace prize laureate – and former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahy.
In Libya in recent months, Salafists and other groups have been implicated in a spate of attacks, including the assault on the US consulate in Benghazi in which two Tunisians were suspected.
Among the countries which succeeded in removing their authoritarian leaders in the Arab spring, Tunisia has faced the greatest challenges in its transition from Salafi-inspired jihadism. These groups – once ruthlessly suppressed by Ben Ali – have re-emerged with a vengeance over the past two years.
In May last year, armed Salafists attacked a police station and bars selling alcohol in the El Kef region. A month later, a trade union office was firebombed. In September, a Salafist mob stormed the US embassy in Tunis and an American school.
If it is difficult to describe what is happening, it is because of terminology.
Although many of those involved in violence and encouraging violence could accurately be called Salafis, they remain an absolute minority of a wider minority movement that has emerged as a small but potent political force across post-revolutionary North Africa.
Although the encouragement to violence from this minority has been most marked in Tunisia, it has not been absent in Egypt.
"We've already started to see real threats," said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Centre last week. "There are many instances in Egypt where Salafis have used the language of incitement against opponents.
"Last year, one Egyptian Salafi cleric, Wagdi Ghoneim, called for a jihad on protesters against President Mohamed Morsi, a demand he repeated this month. Another – Yasser el-Burhamy – reportedly banned Muslim taxi-drivers from taking Christian priests to church."
Yasser el-Shimy, Egypt analyst for the Crisis Group said: "All it takes is for one guy to take it upon himself to carry out a fatwa. But the prospects of that happening in Egypt are less – or certainly not more – than they are in Tunisia. In Egypt, there was a deeper integration of Salafis into the political process as soon as the revolution had taken place."
Most tellingly, two leading Egyptian Salafis last week condemned the death threats against ElBaradei and Sabbahi.
A spokesman for al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya – which only last week called for the crucifixion of masked Egyptian protesters known as the Black Bloc – "rejected" assassinations as a political tool, while the leader of the Nour party, Egypt's largest Salafi group, went further, criticising "all forms of violence".
Nader Bakkar, a spokesman for the Nour party, said: "The Salafis in Tunisia are not organised well and they don't have the scholars who can teach them how to deal peacefully with things that they don't like in their country. It gives you a clear vision that we will not see in Egypt what we saw happen in Tunisia."
Bakkar also argued that Shaaban, the cleric who issued the fatwa against ElBaradei and Sabbahi, had little currency in Egyptian Salafism.
"He doesn't have many followers," said Bakkar, who claimed that Shabaan came from a school of Salafism that had preached obedience to former dictator Hosni Mubarak, and whose reputation had therefore been ruined in the post-revolution period.
The main Salafist political parties, which are represented in parliament, have far more of a stake in democratic transition than in Tunisia and Libya.
In Libya, Islamist violence, in some cases inspired by Salafism, has followed its own trajectory. After more than a year of violence that came as much from the competition between rival groups who fought former dictator Muammar Gaddafi for power and influence, recent incidents have had a more jidahi flavour even as Salafist groups have attacked Sufi shrines and demanded that women be covered.
If there are differences between the strands of Salafist extremism in North African countries, there are some striking similarities. Like Egypt – as Anne Wolf pointed out in January in a prescient essay on the emerging Salafist problem in Tunisia for West Point's Combating Terrorism Centre, "certain territories … have traditionally been more rebellious and religiously conservative than others. Tunisia's south and interior, in particular, have found it difficult to deal with the modernisation policies launched by the colonial and post-independence governments, whose leaders came from more privileged areas."
And while violence – and the threat of violence – by the "minority of the minority" of Salafis has the potential to disrupt the post-revolutionary governments of the Arab spring, for the new Islamist governments it also poses considerable political problems, which are perhaps as serious.
In Tunisia, the government estimates that 100 to 500 of the 5,000 mosques are controlled by radical clerics. Although the majority of Salafists are committed to non-violence, the movement has been coloured by the acts of those following a jihadi stream.
That has created problems for Ennahda, which secular opponents suspect of secretly planning with Salafis the "re-Islamisation" of Tunisia, not least because of the government's unwillingness or inability to move against the most extreme Salafi groups.
Indeed, when an al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb cell was broken up in Tunisia last year, all its members were also found to be active in another Salafist grouping – Ansar al-Sharia, founded by Abou Iyadh. He was jailed for 43 years under ex-dictator Ben Ali's regime after being extradited from Turkey, but was freed under an amnesty for political prisoners following the 2011 revolution that ousted the president.
The jihadist strand has recently been vocal in its condemnation of the intervention by France in its former colony of Mali, which has increased anti-French feeling. Algerian officials said 11 of the 32 Islamist gunmen who overran the In Amenas gas field last month were Tunisian. Tunisian jihadists are said to have left for Syria.
For Ennahda – as a number of analysts pointed out last year – confronting extremist Salafist violence has become a challenging balancing act. Fearful of radicalising the wider movement by cracking down too hard – as the former Ben Ali regime did – it has sought instead to have a dialogue with those renouncing violence by condemning the "rogue elements". This is a policy that has led to accusations that it has been too soft or has secretly tolerated violence against secular opponents such as the murdered Belaid.
As Erik Churchill and Aaron Zelin argued in an article for the Carnegie Endowment for Peace last April, "this position opens the door for secular groups to criticise … the ruling party's actions [as] evidence of a double discourse – conservative in private and moderate in public".
In particular, Tunisia's secular leftist parties were critical of the setting up of a religious affairs ministry under Noureddine al-Khademi, an iman affiliated to the Al-Fateh mosque in Tunis, known for its Salafist presence and protests.
Khademi's office vowed that several hundred mosques in Tunisia which had been taken over by Salafist preachers after the revolution would be brought back under moderate control. Last year, his office said that around 120 remained controlled by extremist preachers, of which 50 were a serious problem.
Even MPs in Ennahda have recently woken up to the problem. Zied Ladhari, an MP for Sousse in the Assembly said the Salafist issue was a concrete part of the heritage of the Ben Ali era and "must be handled in a concrete manner".
He said violent Salafism and jihadism "presents a danger for the stability of the country", while non-violent Salafism – "a way of life and literal reading of Islam" often "imported and foreign to our society"– was something that Ennahda distinguished itself from.
"The violent element must be fought very firmly by police and the law," said Ladhari. "Then there should be dialogue with the peaceful element, in the hope of evolution through dialogue. It's more of a sociological issue than a political one."
He said social-economic issues and fighting poverty and social exclusion were crucial. He said: "We have to deal with it seriously and with courage, a drift must not take hold."
Selma Mabrouk, a doctor and MP who recently quit the centre-left Ettakatol party in protest over the coalition's stance on the constitution and power-sharing, said: "The problem is the violent strain of Salafism, not the strain of thought, because we now have freedom of expression, everyone can have their views."
She warned against an "ambiguous" stance by Islamist party Nahda and the centre-left CPR in the coalition towards street violence, hate speech and attacks which she said were going unchecked. She was also highly critical of the fact that two Salafists arrested for the US embassy attack died in prison after a long hunger strike without a proper trial procedure coming into effect.
She said: "There is this ambivalent attitude from the government, a permissivity on street violence on one side and, on the other hand, indifference to prisoners and the hunger strike." What is salafism?
■ An ultraconservative religious reform movement within Sunni Islam, which has received backing from Saudi Arabia, Salafism calls for a return to the moral practices of the first Muslims.
■ It has incorrectly become synonymous with jihadi ideology, however. Salafists – while extremely puritanical – reject suicide bombing and violence.
■ A minority movement in Islam, it is growing and has become increasingly politically important, not least in Egypt where Salafist parties came second in last year's parliamentary elections to Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
transitional coalition government hung in the balance on Sunday after a key secular party said its ministers would quit amid anger over the dominant Islamist party's handling of the country's political crisis.
The development came as the country's moderate Islamist prime minister held talks with his ruling Ennahda party over replacing certain ministers with non-partisan technocrats in an effort to calm tensions after the murder of leftist opposition figure Chokri Belaïd.
The Congress for the Republic (CPR), which is also the party of Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki, said the withdrawal of its ministers was linked to its long-running demands for cabinet changes. A party official told the state-run TAP news agency that the withdrawal would be confirmed on Monday.
The shooting dead last week of Belaïd, a left-leaning lawyer and outspoken critic of the government, has shocked Tunisia and left the government reeling. It has heightened tension in the small Maghreb nation seen as the poster child for the Arab spring after it ousted its leader Ben Ali following 23 years of dictatorship in January 2011 with far less bloodshed and turmoil than countries such as Egypt or Libya.
There has been no claim of responsibility to it and there is no clear indication of who may have been behind it. The prime minister, Hamadi Jebali, said in a weekend TV interview that his proposed reshuffle towards a non-political, caretaker government which that would run Tunisia until elections could take place was the only way to soothe unrest or the country risked "a swing into chaos". In a country with a mistrusted police force and justice system which remain largely unreformed since the revolution, there has been outrage at what represents a new kind of political murder: an assassination in broad daylight of a type not seen in Tunisia since colonial times.
Mokhtar Yahyaoui, a judge and human rights activist who has sat on the Council for the Safeguard of the Revolution said: "There is a fear in political life which is a real challenge to Tunisia. It's essential for a full investigation, for us to know who is behind it, to put a line under it and calm everyone."
Since Tunisia's first free elections in October 2011, the moderate Islamist party Ennahda, which translates as Renaissance, has headed a coalition government with two centre-left secular parties, in a transition process seen as a model for the region. But the government is bogged down by political stalemate. Parliament's main role was to draw up a new constitution within a year, but that deadline has passed amid differences between secular parties and the Islamist movement on the future shape of nation, and what place religion should have in public life.
After Belaïd's death, Jebali's initial emergency proposal to completely dissolve government and replace politicians with technocrats sparked tensions within Ennahda, of which he is secretary general. In what appeared to be a rebuke to Jebali from within his own party, Ennahda said there had been no consultation on the plan. The proposed government changes appeared to highlight differences within the party between moderates and hardliners. Jebali then scaled back his proposals for a reshuffle, which is expected this week. If it is rejected, he has said he would resign.
On Saturday, thousands held an Ennahda party, pro-government rally in central Tunis after tens of thousands had taken to the streets on Friday for Belaïd's funeral, many shouting anti-government slogans and accusing Ennahda of a lax approach to the increasing political violence in Tunisia.
At the Ennahda rally, some party members criticised plans for a caretaker technocrat cabinet, saying that legitimate politicians should lead government and Islamists had already made too many concessions to opposition demands. Lotfi Zitoun, a senior party official told the crowd: "We are here to support legitimacy, but if you prefer the power of the street, look at the streets today. We have this power."
He had lived in London for many years previously so I suppose though not sure of the mechanics of it but he would walk straight back in....he isn`t at this point a criminal theoretically although, by not controlling extremists with a heavier hand most do say he and his government are guilty of leading the country into its present state and enabling Belaids death