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02/13/2013

The middle path for Tunisia's ruling party isn't so easy

Tunisia
Graffiti in Sidi Bouzid, the farming town where Tunisia's revolution began. (Jim Rankin/Toronto Star)

The International Crisis Group, a respected think tank, has a just released a report on Tunisia which is facing a massive political crisis after the assassination of secular politician Chokri Belaid last week. Tunisia is supposed to be a bright spot in the Arab spring and its ruling Islamist party Ennahda seen as moderate. The party has stopped the worst of Salafist violence through a combination of dialogue and persuasion but striking the middle path isn't easy, the report says. 

"Ennahda finds itself in an increasingly uncomfortable position, caught between non-Islamists who accuse it of excessive leniency and laxity in dealing with the security threat and Salafis who denounce it whenever it takes a harder line. Based on circumstances – a flare-up in violence or a wave of arrests – the party is condemned by either the former or the latter. Ennahda itself is divided: between religious preachers and pragmatic politicians as well as between its leadership’s more flexible positions and the core beliefs of its militant base." 

"Politically, such tensions give rise to an acute dilemma: the more the party highlights its religious identity, the more it worries non-Islamists; the more it follows a pragmatic line, the more it alienates its constituency and creates an opening for the Salafis," the ICG said.  

Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at The Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour

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