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Tunisia heads toward Islamist extremism – but don’t worry, they voted

Tunisia, cited by the “Arab Spring” crowd as the democratic and secular example to which all Arab countries should aspire has suddenly begun showing distinct Islamic tendencies:

Secular Tunisians are expressing concerns after a leader of the country’s Islamist Al-Nahda movement said Tunisia’s emerging government marks "the Sixth Righteous Caliphate."

The fifth caliphate, an Islamic imperial governing system, was abolished by Turkish secular Kemal Ataturk in 1924. In a speech posted on YouTube Sunday, Hamadi Jbeli also pledged that "we shall set forth with God’s help to conquer Jerusalem, if Allah wills… From here is conquest with the help of Allah Almighty."

Somehow this tendency to go in the Islamist religious direction has been discounted by those in the West who were sure that countries with no democratic traditions and intuitions and cultural and religious biases against both would suddenly flower into model representative democracies.

Those who had serious doubts for the reasons stated were dismissed as cynical and not able to understand the new world as it was forming, apparently driven by Twitter.  Pointing out that the most ruthless best organized usually prevail in any sort of revolution and that those traits were enjoyed mostly by Islamists was waved away as overly pessimistic and indicative of a fundamental misunderstanding of the power of the technologically driven secular youth movements taking the lead in each of these countries.

And one by one those movement have foundered and Islamists, in one guise or another, have emerged to take control.  Tunisia, though, where it all began, was held out as the one example of where the wished for model was working.

Yeah, not so much.  6th Caliphate?  Conquer Jerusalem?   Sounds like secular democracy to me, how about you?

Jbeli’s party, Al-Nahda, won 98 of 217 parliamentary seats in Tunisia’s first election.  And naturally, he was hailed by the usual suspects as being a “moderate”:

The group’s electoral success won international praise as a "moderate" movement promoting a democratic form of political Islam. Headlines in mainstream media outlets like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and CNN called Al-Nahda moderate.

Read that quote again.  Is that what is considered moderate in the Arab world?  In any world?

Tunisians certainly don’t:

Leading secularist party Ettakatol suspended its participation in committees to form a governing coalition. "We do not accept this statement," said Khemais Ksila, an executive committee member of Ettakatol. "We thought we were going to build a second republic with our partner, not a sixth caliphate." Issam Chelbi of the secular PDP party called the speech "very dangerous."

"This is what we feared," Chelbi said.

Tunisian women’s groups also have been skeptical of Al-Nahda’s moderation, saying there has been an increase in verbal and physical abuse since President Zine Abidine Ben Ali resigned in the wake of a popular uprising.

This is like an Arab “Ground Hog Day” – the same story repeated in country after country where “Arab Spring” has occurred.

The party leader and ideologue is a piece of work too:

The Arab Spring "will achieve positive results on the path to the Palestinian cause and threaten the extinction of Israel," Party leader and ideologue Rashid Ghannouchi said in a May interview with the Al Arab Qatari website. "The liberation of Palestine from Israeli occupation represents the biggest challenge facing the Umma [Muslim nation] and the Umma cannot have existence in light of the Israeli occupation."

Further, in the same interview, Ghannouchi said: "I give you the good news that the Arab region will get rid of the bacillus [bacteria] of Israel. Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the leader of Hamas, said that Israel will disappear by the year 2027. I say that this date may be too far away, and Israel may disappear before this."

Additionally:

Ghannouchi has also given his support to specific types of terror carried out by Hamas, including rocket attacks against Israeli civilians and "martyrdom operations."

In June 2001, Ghannouchi appeared in an al-Jazeerah panel discussion in which heblessed the mothers of Palestinian suicide bombers:

"I would like to send my blessings to the mothers of those youth, those men who succeeded in creating a new balance of power…I bless the mothers who planted in the blessed land of Palestine the amazing seeds of these youths, who taught the international system and the Israel (sic) arrogance, supported by the US, an important lesson. The Palestinian woman, mother of the Shahids (martyrs), is a martyr herself, and she has created a new model of woman."

Ghannouchi has even gone beyond rhetoric, calling for Muslims to fund and provide logistical support for Hamas. He signed the controversial "Istanbul Declaration," issued by Muslim clerics in support of Hamas after Israel’s January 2009 war in Gaza. The declaration stated that there was an "obligation of the Islamic nation to open the crossings – all crossings – in and out of Palestine permanently" to provide supplies and weapons to Hamas to "perform the jihad in the way of Allah Almighty."

This is Tunisia’s elected majority party.  This is the party which will form the government and name the Prime Minister.    This is the party which has the following stated goals:

Ghannouchi’s statements are consistent with Al-Nahda’s platform, which declares that the party "struggles to achieve the following goals … To struggle for the liberation of Palestine and consider it as a central mission and a duty required by the need to challenge the Zionist colonial attack. The platform also refers to Israel as an "alien entity planted in the heart of the homeland, which constitutes an obstacle to unity and reflects the image of the conflict between our civilization and its enemies."

In September, the organization stated that it "supports the struggle of peoples seeking liberation and justice and encourages world peace and aims to promote cooperation and collaboration and unity especially among Arab and Islamic countries and considers the Palestinian struggle for liberation to be a central cause and stands against normalization."

Peace?  Democracy?  Tunisia first?  Secularism? 

Is this the moderate, secular “Arab Spring” that the supporters imagined?

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO