Islamists are Coming
On February 24, Sheikh Rachid al Ghannouchi outlined how Tunisia avoided a political crisis and drafted a constitution despite tension between Islamists and secularists. “In Tunisia, we are learning how to live together and deal with conflicts between secularists and Islamists,” he said at meeting at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Sectarian tensions have become a major part of political life in the Gulf Arab states, particularly in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait. Shiites in each state suffer varying degrees of religious discrimination and political marginalization. Tensions are typically portrayed as a spillover effect of sectarian strife elsewhere in the region or Iran’s deliberate incitement of local Shiite communities. But they are only part of the story.
The Islamist led government in Tunisia stepped down after just over two years in power on January 9. The transition to an interim government of technocrats marks the first peaceful handover of power from a democratically elected Islamist party.
In stark contrast to the euphoria after elections more than two years ago, Islamist political parties across the Middle East now face escalating challenges to their rule. The main drama is playing out in Egypt between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood. But Islamist parties in Tunisia, Libya are also under pressure from emboldened opposition movements.
Tunisia’s Islamists are the first to step aside voluntarily after being elected. But they are also more divided today than ever before. The challenges of being in government rather than trying to topple it have driven sharp new wedges into old cracks within the Ennahda Party.
Salafis today influence Tunisian politics in multiple ways. While the number of militant Salafis remains modest, their activism influences the way in which Tunisians and outside observers think about the state of affairs in the country. Generally speaking, violence has not been a common political tool in Tunisia. But the steady escalation in Salafi militancy over the past two years undermines this reputation.
Saudi Arabia has redoubled efforts to silence human rights and civil society activists since the 2011 Arab uprisings, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch.
A growing percentage of Tunisians are dissatisfied with their government’s performance, according to a new poll by the International Republican Institute (IRI).
Political Islam in Egypt has suffered a tremendous blow, its biggest setback since its emergence as a formidable ideology and political movement in the early 20th century. But it is not yet clear if other Islamist groups, particularly Salafi groups such as the Nour Party, are in or have benefited from the Brotherhood’s declining fortunes.
Saudi Arabia’s standing among some of its neighbors has faltered substantially since 2007, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. For example, favorability ratings fell 13 percentage points in Egypt and the Palestinian territories between 2007 and 2013. Overall opinion of the kingdom, however, varied widely in the Middle East.