de Bellaigue on Tunisia: room for compromise

Tunisia: ‘Did We Make the Revolution For This?’ by Christopher de Bellaigue | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books

Amusing anecdote on Rachid Ghannouchi:

Even now, after the bruising experience of holding power, the principles championed by Ennahda remain the likeliest blueprint for the country’s future. And this brings us back to the movement’s founder, Ghannouchi himself. Depending on your perspective, his moderate, incremental Islamism can seem virtuous or sinister; equally, it can be read as a pragmatic reaction to events, an acknowledgement of the impossibility of attaining every goal.

I had found myself sitting near him on my flight from London to Tunis (he had been picking up a prize from the British think tank Chatham House) and, speaking the English he had learned over long years in exile in Britain, he told me that he feared the initial spirit of solidarity that the revolution had engendered seemed to be seeping away. He was dispirited by the mauling the government had received at the hands a newly empowered (and mainly secular) media, and the unrealistic expectations of the people. But his vision, of a variegated world with room for competing visions, seemed intact. “There is more than one interpretation in Islam,” he said—a view that the Salafists hate.

He had, I discovered, been urging pragmatism on the Tunis Air flight attendants. Behind a curtain on the drinks trolley, he told me, were hidden different sorts of alcoholic beverage. You only needed to ask, and you would be served. “The flight attendants are unhappy,” Ghannouchi went on.

“They tell me they are good Muslims—they pray and fast and so on—and yet here they are: obliged to serve alcohol. And I say to them that this is the way things are. We live in a society where a lot of people drink alcohol. And so, we must accept the logic of this reality.”


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,