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Opinion: Who are Ennahda’s real rivals? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Tunisian protesters hold a giant national flag during an anti government demonstration on November 15, 2013 in Tunis (AFP PHOTO/FETHI BELAID_

According to the accepted political reality in Tunisia, the Islamist Ennahda’s Movement’s rivals are the Left-wing political parties that are looking to the future. This is true, to some extent; their opposition to Ennahda is political and ideological, but it is also objective and non-radical in its approach. However, there is a larger feud that waxes and wanes depending on the political situation in the country.

After Ennahda secured a relative majority in the National Constituent Assembly elections on October 23, 2011, the movement’s political opponents acquiesced to the results at the ballot box, congratulating Ennahda on its electoral victory and preparing for the new political balance in the country. Each party responded to that new political balance, with some parties announcing they would accept participation in the new government, and others foregoing the temptations of power, rejecting participation in the government and preferring to remain in the opposition. Those who chose the latter option took this decision based on their own reading of the political, social and economic situation in Tunisia at the time, and not out of rejection of the Ennahda Movement itself.

Based on this, it is difficult to believe that it is the political opposition that drove Ennahda out of power, forcing it to resign from government. To be more accurate: It seems clear to me that all that the political opposition of the Ali Laarayedh government did was deal the final blow.

This raises the question: Who is Ennahda’s real opponent? Who is the rival that, until this day, continues to oppose this group and seeks to weaken its popularity through a broad-ranging media campaign? Who is today raising questions about Ennahda’s adherence to Islamic principles and values?

If we return to the beginning, when this state of popular concern and suspicion about the Ennahda Movement first emerged, it is clear that the assassination of opposition politician Chokri Belaid struck the first blow against the Islamist movement—and it was a crippling one.

Belaid’s assassination, the subsequent assassination of Mohamed Brahmi and the killing of Tunisian soldiers over the past year all bear the hallmarks of Takfirist Jihadism. Therefore, it is this ideology, not to mention the Takfirist sleeper cells that adhere to it, which is responsible for Ennahda’s collapse. Groups like this remain active in Tunisia, despite the success of some security operations against them. In many ways, this Salafist Takfirist ideology represents the main opponent of the Ennahda Movement and its political activities. All that Ennahda’s political opposition did was increase the pressure on the Islamist group, socially and politically, in order to expose the fact that it did not know how to deal with the emerging Takfirsit and jihadist phenomenon in Tunisia.

One strange thing in this regard is that Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi had initially sought to absorb Salafist elements into the movement, even describing them as his sons. In fact, the Ennahda-dominated government purposefully left the scene open for the Takfirists, believing that it could use those promoting this ideology to prove Ennahda’s own moderate nature. Ennahda allowed Takfirist jihadism to spread solely in order to use it as a point of contrast between itself and this ideology. However the tables quickly turned and these limited Salafist Jihadist groups transformed into armed organizations, forming larger networks. This is how Takfirism played a strong role in upsetting the balance of power in the Tunisian political arena, ultimately harming Ennahda and its political prospects. This jihadist ideology has all but declared a silent-but-deadly war against Ennahda’s political presence.

In fact, they did not stop here. They are still, along with other extremist Islamist groups such as Hizb Ut-Tahrir and extremist preachers and figures, are still carrying out a relentless campaign against Ennahda. This has continued even after Ennahda left power, and the group is facing accusations that it is responsible for the country’s secular constitution and that it followed French diktats during its rule. In short, these groups and parties are working to discredit Ennahda’s Islamist identity and discourse. They are seeking to sway Ennahda’s popular base, saying that the group’s activities and views are not in line with Islamic principles. This strategy, along with the Left-wing and moderate political parties’ traditional opposition to Ennahda, has forced the Islamist movement into a corner ahead of the forthcoming elections. It is therefore clear that these extremist Islamist trends also view Ennahda as one of their main rivals, even before the Left-wing and secular political parties.

Ennahda failed to recognize its true rival until it was too late, instead focusing its attentions on its traditional secular and Left-wing rivals who ultimately accepted the Islamist movement’s political participation based on the principle of democracy and the ballot box. The real problem is with those who view democracy as blasphemous and un-Islamic.