Commentary terrorist attack in tunis: it’s in the hands of ennahda

The elected Islamists must abandon their tactical alliance with the armed groups. Only then can Tunisia continue to democratize.

Prayer of mourning after the attack in Tunis. Photo: ap

Tiny Tunisia has powerful enemies. That was shown by Wednesday’s attack on the Bardo National Museum in the capital, Tunis, in which 21 people lost their lives and more than 40 were injured, some seriously, according to previous reports. The attack strikes at the heart of Tunisia. The country lives from tourism. If this fails, it will be a catastrophe. The armed Islamists and their backers know this.

And they want the new Tunisia to have no chance. Because this courageous country stands for a different Arab world. With the youth uprising that ushered in the Arab Spring and toppled dictator Ben Ali, Tunisia moved to the center of a possible democratization of a region of the world that has so far been far from democracy. Only in Tunisia has the cry for freedom been successful so far. Last year, a new constitution was adopted, with a government and head of state elected on its basis.

Added to this is the country’s liberal tradition. Nowhere else in the Arab world do women have as many rights as here. Religion is enshrined in the constitution, but for a broad section of the population it is part of the private sphere and has little place in politics.

Tunisia’s new democracy and largely secular tradition are a thorn in the side of the rulers in the Arab world and the Islamists-not only the radicals among them. The Islamists, no matter what color and no matter how radical they are, are supported from the outside. If the attempt to control a country – as happened in Tunisia – fails at the polls, then it must be smothered in blood.

No rush to judgment now

For Tunisia, the moment of truth has come. A crackdown on Islamist terror, yes, but that must not end in the persecution of political Islam. A split between secular and religio-political forces, as occurred in Algeria in the 1990s – and supported by Europe at the time – is the end of any democratic development, any progress. It is precisely what the radical perpetrators of violence seek.

Fortunately, leaders of the Islamist Ennahda party, which ruled the country for two years after the fall of the dictatorship, immediately condemned the attack in clear, unequivocal terms. The leaders of the religious-political formation like to talk about a kind of Tunisian Christian democracy, or in this case Islamodemocracy.

Ennahda must now seriously realize this claim, break away from its supporters in the Gulf states, who have anything but a democratic process in mind, and approach the secular forces. It is time for Ennahda to abandon its hitherto rather tactical relationship with the radicals and integrate itself fully into the political process. Democracy or barbarism – there is no third way.

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