Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Tunisia's Islamist Gov't Goes After Radical Islamists

Tunisian interior minister Ali Larayed announced Monday the break up of a "terrorist organization" with alleged links to al Qaeda in Libya and perhaps Algeria. The 12 men arrested had previously been jailed by the ancien regime but after Tunisia's uprising and the exile of former President Ben Ali, the interim government hastily released all political prisoners, which included radical fundamentalists. An additional 9 members escaped arrest and are believed to be in Libya.

As to their motive: "They were intending to establish an Islamist state," Larayed said.  

Larayed's statement merits reflection, if only for its ironic nature. Tunisia's elected government - a first in national history - is led by the moderate Islamist Hizb al Nahda (Party of the Renaissance), which won a plurality of 37% of the vote and leads a troika coalition with two secular, center-left parties. al Nahda had been banned under the previous regime. Much of its leadership, including Larayed, were jailed or forced into exile. 

The Ben Ali regime portrayed al Nahda as a threat to secular values and rather indistinguishable from militant Islamic movements, such as al Qaeda. This was a domestic and foreign ploy: Only Ben Ali stood between Tunisia and harsh Islamic theocracy. It was such a common line that many secularist Tunisians internalized the discourse and at times casually defended the regime as the best option in a bad lot. 

Today's news is a press release rebuffing that old line: An Islamist government fighting radicals seeking to establish an Islamic state, a goal previously (and often still) attributed to al Nahda which has been portrayed as the natural allies of the very latter now being arrested by the former. Whatever one may think of al Nahda, today's news illustrates once again just how unfounded the propagated fear of the "Muslim Brotherhood" wrecking havoc, and thus justifying secular dictatorship, has been all along. And how broad the spectrum of contemporary Islamists movements is. 

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