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Tunisia

Mosque & State: Tunisia's Moderate Islamist Party Is Favored In Next Month's Vote

Tunisia's Nahda party is working to improve its image amongst foreigners and skeptical secularist voters. But it does not renounce its desire for a democracy based on Islamic values.

Rashid Al-Ghannushi, leader of Islamist Nahda party, on the right(Magharebia)
Rashid Al-Ghannushi, leader of Islamist Nahda party, on the right(Magharebia)
Julie Gommes

TUNIS – At a meeting last week, Tunisia's moderate Islamist party Nahda (Renaissance) outlined its policy proposals for next month's parliamentary elections. Simultaneous translation headphones, staff hired specifically to answer every foreign journalists' whim: everything was aimed at improving the party's image, as Tunisians voters prepare to vote next month. Indeed, Nahda is leading in the polls.

The party's program, a mix of Turkey's market-oriented Islamism and more traditional values, included such measures as economic reform, a new union of Arab countries and the reduction of women's weekly working hours, so that they can "devote more time to their families."

The gathering opened with the assembly chanting verses from the Koran and every speech began with "In the name of Allah, most Gracious, most Merciful." This probably won't improve the party's image in Tunis, a city that is increasingly Europeanized. But Nahda knows that it's in villages that it will win seats for the Constituent Assembly. Therefore, the program underlines the importance of fishing and farming, but also stresses the need to raise low salaries and give more to poor families.

Besides outlining the party's program, Nadha also wanted to emphasize its modernity: "Islamists have always been misunderstood. We only want to keep the most objective principles, like peace and science. Religion is between you and God," confessed Mondher Ounissi, a doctor. Supporters have mastered a well-oiled speech. It is impossible to find out where the campaign funds come from or what kind of society the party has in mind.

Nahda's president, Rashid Al-Ghannushi, learned the lessons of the revolution and now advocates "a participative society, a market-oriented economy supported by a new social contract." He says he wants to build "a democratic regime based on the values of Islam." Tunisians may be in for the long haul as there have been repeated talks of "extending the planned two presidential terms."

In the streets of Tunis, these ideas aren't welcome - especially among the youth: "If I wanted to invite a female friend to a flat I share with friends, she wouldn't be able to stay overnight. The whole neighborhood would start gossiping. She'd be in trouble," a very young supporter confessed, even though he said he couldn't see himself anywhere but among Islamists in the future. "It's a fairer society. Some complain about order and restrictions, but what we're looking for is dignity."

Not a word about headscarves

Riding the wave of fashionable themes – an independent judiciary system, a strong cooperation between the people and the state and above all, creating about 600,000 jobs – Nahda wants to create an Arab Maghreb Union to challenge the Union for the Mediterranean when it comes to dealing with Europe. The same goes for the economy: a "common North African market with our Libyan and Egyptian brothers," coupled with investments that would contribute to "GDP growth."

There was, however, no word on the Islamic headscarf or on polygamy (Tunisia is the region's only country where men are allowed to marry only one woman). Rashid Al-Ghannushi only mentioned the decline in the number of divorces as a result of the decision to reduce women's weekly working hours.

And finally, when asked about what kind of relationship he would want between Tunisia and Europe, the Islamist leader avoids any commitment and speaks of "respecting treaties' and "getting involved in the long-term." Nothing new, then, except an impressive U-turn in terms of communication, one month before the elections.

Read the original story in French

Photo -Magharebia

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Ideas

Iran: A Direct Link Between Killing Protesters And The Routine Of State Executions

Iran has long had a simple and prolific response to political opposition and the worst criminal offenses, namely death by shooting or hanging. Whether opening fire on the streets or leading the world in carrying out the death penalty, the regime insists that morality is on its side.

Protesters linked to the Iranian group Mojahedin-e Khalq demonstrate in Whitehall, London in 2018

Ahmad Ra'fat

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In early September, before Iran's latest bout of anti-government protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, there was another, quieter demonstration: Relatives of several prisoners sentenced to death staged a sit-in outside the judiciary headquarters in Tehran, urging the authorities to waive the sentences. The crowd, which doggedly refused to disperse, included the convicts' young children.

Executions have been a part and parcel of the Islamic Republic of Iran since its inception in 1979. The new authorities began shooting cadres of the fallen monarchy with unseemly zeal, usually after a summary trial. On Feb. 14, 1979, barely three days after the regime was installed, the first four of the Shah's generals were shot inside a secondary school in Tehran.

To this day, the regime continues to opt for death by firing squad for its political opponents; the execution method-of-choice for more socio-economic blights like drug trafficking has been death by hanging.

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