The CPD Blog is intended to stimulate dialog among scholars and practitioners from around the world in the public diplomacy sphere. The opinions represented here are the authors' own and do not necessarily reflect CPD's views. For blogger guidelines, click here.

Islamists and the Tests They Face

Nov 4, 2011

by

DOHA --- When the Islamist Ennahda Party won 40 percent of the vote in Tunisia’s first free election since the overthrow of Zine Abidine Ben Ali, the party’s leader, Rachid Ghannouchi said, “We will continue this revolution to realize its aims of a free Tunisia, independent, developing, and prosperous in which the rights of God, the Prophet, women, men, the religious, and the non-religious are assured because Tunisia is for everyone.”

Although most political observers in this region take Ghannouchi at his word, any political party or individual with the label “Islamist” attached is viewed with great suspicion in the West. Part of this stems from the lack of knowledge about Muslims’ faith and culture, and from the assumption that “Islamism” is synonymous with “extremism.” Overcoming ignorance and prejudice will take time, but parties such as Ennahda and its counterparts elsewhere in the region could do much to advance their cause by forthrightly addressing the issues that create suspicion about how they will use power. Among the most important of these is the role of women in Muslim societies.

Ennahda has promised that women will play a prominent role in Tunisia’s government. Elsewhere in the region, Yemen’s Tawakkol Karman, a winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, is among that country’s energized women who are leading the struggle for democracy, and women have played prominent roles in bringing about change in other Arab nations. They don’t want tokenism, such as a quota of seats in legislatures, but rather seek to freely make decisions about how to lead their lives and to participate in the lives of their countries.

But there are plenty of conservative interpreters of Islam who insist that women should wear the veil, should be excluded from public life, and should generally be subservient to men. If this outlook takes hold as Arab countries reshape their politics, the term “Islamist” will deserve its pejorative meaning.

Muslims must decide if faith and freedom are to coexist. As they decide, a primary task for the states emerging from the “Arab spring” is to make democracy more than a matter of electoral politics, and instead embrace the notion of a democratic culture. The openness endorsed by Ghannouchi is at the heart of such culture. The people – all of them – must have the opportunity to shape their countries’ futures.

COMMENTS

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
1 COMMENT(S)

Sounds like it is a great

Sounds like it is a great thing to have a non-conservative leader in Tunisia. Women have been held down for far to long and the country needs to get up to speed with the use of women in their government. The extremists who want women to be their slaves should shhhhhh and go back into their man holes. Extremists need to be dealt with. There needs to be an educational system put into place to teach tolerance.

STAY IN THE KNOW

Visit CPD's Online Library

Explore CPD's vast online database featuring the latest books, articles, speeches and information on international organizations dedicated to public diplomacy. 

Join the Conversation

Interested in contributing to the CPD Blog? We welcome your posts. Read our guidelines and find out how you can submit blogs and photo essays >