As the once seemingly bright future of the “Arab Spring” evolved into something closer to a nightmare for those hoping for a more secular and democratic society, Tunisia seemed to be the one bright spot. Not so says the author who, writing in the National Interest, leads readers through the usual morass of Islamist organizations, all lumped together under the newspaper reference as “salafist jihadis.”
Tunisia, once a bastion of relative liberalism despite its succession of authoritarian leaders, is moving toward a more fundamentalist orientation with a “moderate” Islamist political party, the governing Ennahda, blaming all acts of violence on the jihadis while at the same time maintaining contacts with them and turning a blind eye to their Islamist-inspired acts of violence.
The author lists the three main Islamist organizations, the Ansar al-Sharia (AST), the Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution (LPR), and finally the innocuous sounding “Centrist Association for Awareness and Reform.” The later is a morality police force modeled after the religious police in Saudi Arabia. All three are a force for retrogression. As the author states, “ From Tunis to Sidi Bouzid, the salafists have drawn a line in the hot Saharan sand, making their opposition to a liberal-democratic future perfectly clear.”
The author cannot explain where the ordinary Tunisians stand in this political miasma, understandable in an environment where few would brave the intimidating power of the salafists to register opposition. The only clear public message is the clamor to restore order, which is a clear invitation to the better-organized salafist organizations.