On Tunisia's Salafis

Last week, before the war in Gaza broke out, I wrote an op-ed on Tunisia's Salafis for The National. It looks at how the Islamist perception of the legacy of Habib Bourguiba's authoritarian secularism fuels much of the rage of the Salafi movement, and explains why they attract so much attention in the media. 

In conversations with Tunisian Islamists over the last two years, I came to understand their view of the history of their country. Their problem was not just with the former Ben Ali regime, but with the legacy of Bourguiba: not just the repression, torture and prohibition from political life, but a disdain for religion in public life.

For Bourguiba, this went beyond bans of veiled women on state television and other measures to curtail visible appearances of religiosity. It was also state intimidation of religious people, the domestication of traditional religious authorities, and sometimes gratuitous insults on religious sentiment. Bourguiba, for instance, was in the habit of appearing on state television during Ramadan drinking during daytime, and urged others to do the same.

The capital crime of the Bourguiba regime in the Islamists' eyes was to estrange people from their religion, drive them away from their traditions and usurp their identity for something borrowed from Europe.

A lot of this, in other words, is about a sentiment that Bourguiba and his successor uprooted Tunisian society from its roots, as well as all the other causes: the spread of fundamentalism, foreign funding, etc. I think that this is a special aspect of Tunisian Salafism, and more generally Islamism, that is worth taking note of in understanding Tunisia's culture wars. Read the rest here.

Also, here are a few links on this subject to stories from the past month or so.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.