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Ennahda: an inspiration

Opinion

August 8, 2020

Change is a constant and inevitable phenomenon. Consequently, every civilization confronted decline after reaching the zenith of glory and fame.

The Muslim civilization was no exception in this regard. The unity of Muslims shattered into pieces with the inception of the nation-state, which further aggravated the condition of the Muslim world. In this phase of despair and acrimony, some reformers were born who tried to make the lives of Muslims better. Rached-al-Ghanoushi is one such name.

Ghanoushi is a Tunisian political activist and co-founder of the Ennahda movement. Ghanoushi studied philosophy in Damascus and Sorbonne in Paris. He received honors for his role in peacebuilding and democracy, which fostered democratic transition in Tunisia. Initially inspired by the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, he founded the Islamic Tendency Movement (ITM) in line with the ideology of Islamism. This resulted in a ban on the ITM by the then Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba, and his imprisonment for four years.

Ghanoushi was alleged to be involved in conspiring against the sitting government and trying to launch a Khomeini-style revolution in Tunisia. He was sentenced to a life of hard labour along with other Islamist supporters. In November 1987, Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali dethroned Bourguiba. In May 1988, Ben Ali pardoned and freed Ghanoushi and almost 3,000 other Islamists. Meanwhile, he was got inspired by the Al-Qaeda and other Islamist movements.

Ahead of the 1989 electoral process, the ITM was rebranded as Ennahda and emerged as the second-largest party in the country, winning 17 percent of the votes. According to analysts, the actual number was much higher. This once again proved to be a disaster for Ghanoushi as Ennahda was banned by Ben Ali in wake of their electoral success and Ghanoushi went into exile life of 22-years. After exile when Ghanoushi returned back his views were changed a lot.

In January 2011, Ben Ali was ousted out of power by a popular uprising, the Jasmine Revolution. The protests, and Ben Ali’s expulsion, inspired a series of uprisings known as the Arab Spring, especially in Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Syria. Tunisia’s revolution is widely considered to be the only one of these uprisings to have succeeded in replacing an autocratic government with a stable democratic government.

Ghanouchi positioned his party to run in the parliamentary elections but did not run for office himself. Ennahda won a plurality of the country's vote and was determined to fulfill the promises made amid the election campaign to improve education, women's rights, and religious freedom. There was a great transition in the political thoughts of Ghanoushi, which changed Ennahda and transformed the political landscape of Tunisia completely.

In one of his interviews, Ghanoushi renounced his idea that, ‘Islam was never in contradiction with the democracy’. He rejected the idea of political Islam saying that ‘it is a reaction pivoted on hate towards secularization’. Ennahda formulated a constitution that was not grounded in Shariah. That, consequently, drew criticism from the Islamists. Ghanoushi opined that religion and state can’t travel together, and that the mosque should be for prayers and the promotion of unity among the people.

In an interview, he asserted that ‘The way people understand Islam needs reforming’. The secularisation of Tunisian politics changed a lot of things and received international recognition and praise for ensuring religious freedom, protection of women's rights, and free and fair elections. They are drifting towards stability. Power transition is no more a problem because of their inclusive political approach. The revolutionary step of not mingling religion and state changed the dynamics of Tunisian politics.

Ennahda should be an inspiration for the religious political parties of Pakistan. Due to a lack of proper knowledge and understanding of democracy, religious political parties have not accepted democracy, democratic values, and ideals wholeheartedly. They need to abstain from violent and opportunist politics like protesting against the construction of a temple or church. In other words, attention should be paid to a broader sense of politics – the politics of reforms and development. For example, the active participation of women in the democratic process, a positive and objective approach regarding religious freedom, social cohesion, human rights, and development. The shining models of Muslim democracies like Malaysia, Indonesia, and particularly Tunisia need to be studied. Because it is very important for countries like Pakistan to be on the right track of democracy by learning lessons from the growing democracies in Muslim-majority countries for a prosperous and peaceful future.

The writer heads the International Research Council for Religious

Affairs, an Islamabad-based think tank.

Email: [email protected]