I never believed that the so-called Arab spring would ever turn to summer, not when the people of Egypt said, when polled, that they wanted democracy and they wanted Sharia law. The two are as apart as night and day. One can either have human law or divine law. One cannot have both.
With an eye on events in Syria, Yemen and Libya, the world has turned away from Tunisia, the place where the Jasmine Revolution began. If I tell you that more and more people are beginning to regret the passing of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, the former president, then you might begin to understand the present state of the country. Ben Ali, a determined secularist, was never the tyrant he was subsequently made out to be. But tyranny and intolerance is creeping up on Tunisia. A secular society, the most secular in the Arab world, is giving way to radical Islam.
Writing in the latest edition of the Spectator (Summer of hate), John Bradley describes the mood of apprehension that is besetting the country as the elections approach, elections in which Ennahda (Awakening), the main Islamist party, are likely to make substantial gains.
It’s a development that I had already remarked on in an article published elsewhere. http://anatheimp.blogspot.com/2011/06/wormtongue-and-arab-spring.html All over the country, with Ennahda on the rise, women, who previously enjoyed rights almost unparalleled elsewhere in the Arab world, are being forced to wear the veil. Forced praying and condemnation for apostasy are also on the rise. Moderate imams are being ejected from their mosques, too afraid to complain to the authorities because of the perceived weakness of the provisional government.
Earlier this year when Nadia El Fani, a leading Tunisian director, premièred Neither God Nor Master, a documentary in which she denounces radical Islam, the cinema was attacked by hundreds of bearded fanatics, threatening a ‘massacre’ in the screening continued. There are slight echoes here, it would seem to me, of the attacks by the Nazis in the early 1930s on cinemas that dared screen Lewis Milestone’s adaptation of All Quiet on the Western Front, an affront, so they said, to German honour.
With Islamists seizing control of whole neighbourhoods, and prowling the streets of Tunis, the capital, in search of converts, revenue from the tourist trade, vital to the Tunisian economy, is down by more than fifty per cent. As Bradley details in his article, the poverty rate, at 4 per cent before the revolution, now stands at 40 per cent. Crime is now so bad that it is dangerous to walk the streets of Tunis at night.
Ennahda, even when it presents a moderate face, denouncing street violence, is being shadowed by much more hard-line forces in the Salafist movement, an increasingly important base of angry Islamists, which would explain why the party has yet to publish a manifesto. Better to leave matters in doubt, it would appear; certainties can be laid out after the election.
Bradley concludes his piece with a pertinent warning:
The fact is that moderate Islamism is a myth. There are, to be sure, more than a billion moderate Muslims — people who pray five times a day or not, fast during Ramadan or not, perhaps entertain superstitions about pork, the devil, or the conduct of the birds vis-à-vis the Kaaba, or indeed seek by painstaking study of the Koran and the Hadith to reconcile the basic values of their religion with modern life and the discoveries of science. But Islamism is a political ideology that takes a literal, fundamentalist interpretation of the Koran as a master plan for society: Islamic law. You are either an Islamist or you are not, in the same way that you cannot be a little bit pregnant.
We ignore this at our peril. Many Tunisians ignored it in their desire for ‘change’, a change that is turning out for the worst.