TUNIS, (AFP) — After five days of often heated debate, Tunisia’s ruling Islamist Ennahda party pledged to pursue its mission of moderation but was also seen to opt for ambiguity to safeguard “unity” in a still fragile nation.
“This was a congress aimed at building a somewhat artificial unity,” political analyst Ahmed Manai said. “They are remaining vague to preserve unity.”
The congress was the first to be held at home by Ennahda — Renaissance — in 24 years, and the first since the party came to power in the Arab Spring which ended the autocratic regime of former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Against a backdrop of political and religious tension in the country, Ennahda adopted a final declaration saying the party will remain a “moderate” and “centrist” force.
It also pledged to “guarantee freedom of expression and creation,” and said it would “criminalise any attempt to undermine sacred values,” saying that any such move would be considered a direct attack on personal freedoms.
Even so, Ennahda remained vague on how it will carry out its self-declared mission in a country where the opposition fears the rise of Islamism could threaten decades of secular values.
In June riots triggered by an art gallery exhibit deemed to be offensive to Islam spread across parts of Tunis, leaving one person dead and more than 100 injured.
The exhibit included a painting of a naked woman with bearded men standing behind her and a piece with the word “Allah” spelled out by a file of ants.
A Tunisian court official, Mohamed Ali Bouaziz, was convicted of calling for a protest after stumbling on the controversial artwork and was sentenced to two months in jail or a 2,000-dinar (1,000-euro, $1,250) fine earlier this month.
Suspected Salafists — who follow an ultra-conservative brand of Islam — later sneaked into the gallery and destroyed some of the works. The vandalism was followed by two days of violence.
In May, a Tunisian television station boss was fined 2,400 dinars in a high-profile trial after being convicted of “broadcasting a film that disturbs public order and threatens proper morals.”
Nabil Karaoui’s crime was to have allowed the Nessma station to broadcast the Franco-Iranian film “Persepolis,” winner of the Jury Prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.
More recently, a young Tunisian was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison on similar charges after he posted caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed on Facebook.
Ennhada’s congress also left many questions unanswered, including a clear vision for the future of the constitution, although the party had already said that sharia or Islamic law would not be inscribed in the new charter.
And the final declaration did not say whether the government coalition would be enlarged after speculation that this would happen.
As things stand, Ennahda members make up around half of the cabinet. The other portfolios are shared between by two centre-left parties, the Congress for the Republic (CPR) of President Moncef Marzouki and Ettakatol.
Rached Ghannouchi, a former radical preacher turned moderate who was re-elected as head of Ennahda, said on Friday that enlarging the coalition would make the government more efficient.
Interior Minister Ali Larayedh explained the party’s stance.
“Ennahda wants a parliamentary regime because it believes it is the best formula to consecrate democracy,” he said.
“We will agree with our partners on a regime that achieves the objectives of the revolution and will be accepted by all.”
Ennahda won Tunisia’s first post-uprising poll, in October, taking 41 percent of the seats in the National Constituent Assembly.
The assembly is the interim body tasked with drafting a new constitution and preparing fresh elections due in March 2013.