Soumaya Ghannoushi

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The leader of the moderate Islamist party Ennahdha, Rached Ghannouchi, was arrested in April. Photograph: Hassene Dridi/AP

“Historic” – that is how Tunisia’s president, Kais Saied, described his meeting with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad on the eve of the Arab League summit in Jeddah earlier this month. Snaps of him standing alongside al-Assad and Egypt’s Abdel Fatah al-Sisi during the summit were widely shared around the region, signalling Tunisia’s return to the grand old club of Arab dictatorships.

For all their internecine conflicts and rivalries, hidden and visible, Arab leaders are again united around one sacred goal: aborting their people’s aspirations for change. Muammar Gaddafi, Hosni Mubarak and Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali may no longer be on the stage, but their spirit lives on in a new generation.…  Seguir leyendo »

'With no sectarian, ethnic, religious or tribal divides, political and ideological differences do not turn into societal divisions in Tunisia as they do in Iraq, Syria or Lebanon.' Photograph: Mohamed Messara/EPA

Tunisia is bracing itself for the second open and free elections since its revolution and the toppling of its dictator in January 2011. While the rest of the Arab spring countries – Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen – have slid either into chaos and civil strife or back into the bleak and brutal era of military coups, Tunisia seems to have withstood the powerful storms raging around it and will elect a representative parliament on Sunday.

The country has adopted a modern democratic constitution that won the approval of 93% of its diverse political parties. It is the most progressive constitution in the Arab region, enshrining women’s rights, freedom of belief, conscience, and worship, and banning incitement to violence and religious excommunication.…  Seguir leyendo »

Had the army not pulled the rug from under Mubarak's feet, siding with protesters in Tahrir Square, the story of Egypt's revolution might have resembled those of Syria, Yemen and even Libya, more closely. A bitter confrontation would have cost hundreds, if not thousands, of lives, significantly delaying the old president's fall. The chant that reverberated around Egypt's squares in the early post-Mubarak days, as euphoric Egyptians embraced soldiers, was "The people and the army are one hand". This was not only the people's revolution, but the army's too. But it is now clear that the army does not perceive itself as a partner in the revolution, but as its representative and guardian: the sole bearer of its legitimacy.…  Seguir leyendo »

Thirty years ago the world awoke to a great volcanic eruption in Iran that transformed the country's face and sent tremors across the globe. A mass movement of popular protest had succeeded in doing what few had thought possible. The Shah's heavily fortified regime was no more - a mere chapter in the country's long past.

For all the religious euphoria that has marked the revolution, its root causes are in reality more sociopolitical than theological. After all, theology cannot create revolution if its conditions are not seething in society's gut and within its political forces. The vast wells of popular anger that erupted at the end of the 1970s were fed by grievances that had been building for years.…  Seguir leyendo »

Pick up any newspaper today in Britain or elsewhere in Europe, switch on the TV or tune in to any radio station, and you're very likely to get the impression that "our societies" - if not western civilisation in its entirety - face an imminent Islamic threat, on a par with the old dangers of fascism. Since the terrorist bombings of New York, Madrid and London, the "fundamentalist peril" has become part of the air we breathe. It has become a rhetorical crutch for everyone from rightwing bigots to opportunistic politicians and repenting "former extremists", each with their own agenda.

Today we live amid an explosion of discourse and imagery around Islam and Muslims.…  Seguir leyendo »

In a few days time a cluster of far-right groups under the name the Stop the Islamisation of Europe alliance will hold rallies in London, Copenhagen and Marseilles to demand an end to what they call "the overt and covert expansion of Islam in Europe". Although the events are likely to attract no more than a handful of protesters, their message resonates widely. On Saturday the rightwing People's party, notorious for its virulent hostility to ethnic minorities and Muslims, emerged as the victor in the Swiss elections, taking 29% of the vote, the best electoral performance by a party in the country's elections since 1919.…  Seguir leyendo »

It seems that al-Qaida's dream is on its way to turning into reality. At last it has found a foothold on the Palestinian scene. Witness the kidnapping of BBC reporter Alan Johnston in Gaza by the al-Qaida affiliated Jaish al-Islam 100 days ago yesterday, and the heated battles in Nahr al-Barid refugee camp between the Lebanese army and al-Qaida sympathisers Fatah al-Islam over the past month. And with Gaza and the West Bank sliding further into anarchy, with Hamas and Fatah turning on each other after a year of crushing siege, this new presence can only grow stronger.

Since declaring jihad in 1998, al-Qaida has aspired to acquire the legitimacy of representing the Palestinian cause, well aware of its rich symbolism within the Arab and Islamic collective conscience.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Tories are bending over backwards to be seen as a modern, progressive, mainstream party, even the "voice of liberal Britain". When elected, David Cameron declared that his mission was "to change the face of the Conservative party" and that, it seems, is just what he has done. With newly selected candidates such as the green campaigner Zac Goldsmith and black youth charity organiser Shaun Bailey, and now the prospect of some Hollywood glamour at the Conservative conference - where the Republican governor and Terminator star Arnold Schwarzenegger is due to do a turn in October - the Tories have undergone extensive cosmetic surgery.…  Seguir leyendo »

After his acquittal on the charge of inciting racial hatred, Nick Griffin was asked whether he was a racist. He replied that he was no longer one, that he is now a "religionist". But should we believe that Griffin has really abandoned the racism that frames his ideology and that of the party he leads? Of course not. All Griffin has done is stretch from one category of racism to another - without breaking with the former: from a discourse founded on racial hatred to one based on religio-racial hatred. In the speech for which he and his assistant, Mark Collett, were taken to court, the two shifted effortlessly from referring to Islam as "this wicked, vicious faith" that "has expanded from a handful of cranky lunatics about 1,300 years ago", to speaking of Asian "muggers", "rapists", "bastards", "cockroaches" and "ethnics" who need to be "shown the door".…  Seguir leyendo »