Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Is a Muslim democracy growing in Tunisia?

Said Ferjani of Enhanahda. (Gianni Cipriano)
This weekend I read an article that gives me hope for seeing democracy flourish in the new middle East. It was all about one of the leaders of Ennahda, the Islamist party that now governs Tunisia. His name is Said Ferjani and he has some theories about democracy that he wants to put into practice.

At first, the story sounded eerily familiar: Islamic agitator is captured and tortured by brutal regime, escapes to spend his exile in London, then returns after a revolution to join a Muslim uprising. Yikes! But this man actually broadened his horizons while living in England, unlike our favorite Ayatolla who seemed to pull further into himself during his own exile and returned more stringent than ever.

Mr. Ferjani is saying things that make me hopeful:
“I can tell you one thing, we now have a golden opportunity. And in this golden opportunity, I’m not interested in control. I’m interested in delivering the best charismatic system, a charismatic, democratic system. This is my dream.”
 “Read, read, read, read. Even when I walked, I read.”  (I can relate to that)
“Everybody has to be careful not to be dragged into a dictatorial instinct, no matter what happens. We can’t lose the soul of our revolution.”

He is a student of Rashid al-Gannouchi who is bent on increasing the democracy in Tunisia's Muslim government: Mr. Ghannouchi, his own thoughts evolving in exile, became an early proponent of a more inclusive and tolerant Islamism, arguing a generation ago that notions of elections and majority rule were universal and did not contradict Islam. Early on, he supported affirmative action to increase women’s participation in Parliament.
He gives his mentor credit: “Frankly, the guy who brought democracy into the Islamic movement is Ghannouchi.”

It all sounds great to me but what power does this man have in Tunisia's new government? And how long will he continue to espouse democratic principles once he tastes the power?
“We don’t fear freedom of expression, but we cannot allow disorder,” he said. “People have to be responsible. They have to know there is law and order.”
He suggested that protesters should obtain permission from the police. He worried that the news media was too reckless.

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