As Predicted, Tunisian Islamists Emerge
By Staff News & Analysis - January 25, 2011

Islamist movement at forefront of Tunisia's protests … Tunisia's underground Islamic movement has emerged at the forefront of nationwide protests against its leadership and appears set to emerge as the strongest political force in elections. … Al-Nadha is lead by the London-based exile Rachid Ghannouchi who has said that he will return to the country as soon as the threat of life in prison is lifted. Mr. Ghannouchi has the best claims to an electoral following in Tunisia after the disintegration of the ruling party. He has wide core support at the country's universities and his followers secured 17 per cent in 1989's election – an unrivalled following in Tunisia's rigged electoral system. – UK Telegraph

Dominant Social Theme: Everybody should participate in the modern nation-state, even Islamic fundamentalists. If they attack, however, we shall have to further curtail Western freedoms in the name of security.

Free-Market Analysis: In a recent article (Western Elites Secretly Still Building Islam) we speculated that the Anglo-America power elite was supporting Islam because the West's growing authoritarianism needed an outside enemy to ensure its global expansion. We received some skeptical feedback regarding that perspective, even though we admitted it was a somewhat simplistic analysis.

We recall one feedback that simply questioned whether we had ever been to Tunisia or its environs (none of us have) and implied that lack of on-the-ground familiarity had led us sorely astray. Imagine our surprise when recent reports (available on the Internet) are now indicating that there is a good deal of Islamic activity swirling around Tunisia. It seems Muslim fundamentalism (of some sort) is a feasible political force in post-revolutionary Tunisia, and in fact may provide a point of cohesion in an otherwise fractured society.

We had not done much research into Tunisia at the time we wrote the initial article, a week ago now. But we were trying to provide a larger view. And so we asked, "What if the powers-that-be had decided to do what they could to expand the Muslim threat – and thus expand (in the Western mind anyway) the specter of resurgent, militant Islam? A cynical idea isn't it, dear reader." We were careful to call the idea "speculation," even though we thought we detected a larger pattern, as follows:

In the strife-torn West African nation of Ivory Coast (Côte d'Ivoire) the West is supporting Alassane Ouattara, a former prime minister, banker and leader of the opposition over incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo. Ouattara is Muslim; Gbagbo is Christian. The West advocates for the Muslim-linked faction over the Christian one. Then there is the referendum in the Sudan, one of Africa's largest states and most Northern ones. The referendum, being conducted on the auspices of the United Nations, aims to split the country, creating a predominantly Muslim Northern Sudan … The West, under the auspices of the UN, is in the process of creating a fundamentalist Muslim state. Finally, there is the sorry saga of the War in Kosova in which the West backed Albanian Muslims over Serbian Christians.

We asked the question about the potential for a Muslim state in Tunisia not only because we thought we'd detected a pattern, but because we had analyzed a similar pattern when it came to Iran. We've written about the evolution of Iran's theocracy several times, most recently in September, in an article entitled The Rise of Iran. There is certainly speculation on the Internet that the antecedents of Iran's current state were more complex than what the mainstream reported. Here's an expert from our article:

In an era when the truth-telling of the Internet is continually destabilizing the elite's fear-based promotional propaganda, the erection of a believable and even formidable enemy is of great importance from the Western elite's point of view. It provids a rationale for increased authoritarianism, justifies the West's increased use of spy-technologies (which are mostly domestically aimed) and provides a rationale for continued military-industrial spending.

Seen from this point of view, the West's incursions into Iran and Afghanistan become comprehensible at a fundamental level as well. Saddam Hussein's regime was a nationalist one, but now with Iran's growing influence in the country, the political structure has been overtaken by religious calculations. The theoretical elements of Iran's Shia revolution have been spread not only into Iraq but also into Afghanistan.

Was this a deliberate outcome? We have our suspicions of course. There is no doubt America under Jimmy Carter destabilized the secular regime of the Shah of Iran. Ruhollah Khomeini, stored in France, was put on plane back to Iran (where he apparently groused to reporters that he much disliked Iranians). This was not surprising either from out point of view as Khomeini's father is reported to have been British intelligence …

Now we see the same pattern occurring with Tunisia. Rachid Ghannouchi, an enemy of the previous Tunisian regime, has lived in Britain for 20 years; he returns to Tunisia. He is preparing to revive his Islamic party formally, even though he denies any political ambitions himself. Der Spiegel recently interviewed him. Here's an excerpt:

Rachid Ghannouchi, 69, has lived in London since 1989 when his Islamist party, al-Nahda, was banned in Tunisia. He is now planning to return to Tunisia in the wake of the recent fall of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. He backs the radical Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, but he also argues that multi-party democracy is consistent with Islam … He spoke with SPIEGEL about why the new government isn't much better than the toppled regime and how Europe's silence prolonged the dictatorship.

SPIEGEL: As leader of what was once the biggest Islamist party, al-Nahda, will you be playing a decisive role in the new Tunisia?

Ghannouchi: I will not be standing for office. I'm nearing 70; there are younger people within our movement. I just wish to contribute intellectually to the historic process of taking Tunisia from the era of repression to one of democracy …

SPIEGEL: But the new leadership of Tunisia has not lifted your prison term of three life sentences.

Ghannouchi: We completely reject this government, as does the entire Tunisian people. Its majority is composed of figures of the old regime implicated in decades of corruption and repression and it excludes the real opposition and credible representatives of civil society. All parties agreed that we first need a general amnesty, but this government has offered only words and no actions.

Ghannouchi comes across in the interview as a moderate Muslim, claiming that his faction seeks no more than to work with other Tunisian power centers whether religious or secular. However, a little research turns up other perspectives regarding Ghannouchi and his party. According to a post on the Tunisian oriented website Aangirfan, Ghannouchi's party "Ennahda, or Renaissance," (al-Nahda) Tunisia's largest Islamist movement, came in second to the ruling party in 1987 elections.

This didn't suit Tunisia's rulers. Subsequently the party was shut down and Ghannouchi was given protection by Britain. The post continues: "Tunisia accused Ghannouchi of being behind a planned terrorist bombing campaign aimed at crippling Tunisia's tourist industry. A bomb that exploded in a tourist hotel in the resort city of Monastir severely maimed a British woman guest." Aangirfan adds the following:

What about the Islamists in Tunisia? The Islamist movement has been at the forefront of Tunisia's protests … Iran, Saudi Arabia and the CIA all appear to have a philosophy that could be described as 'fascist'. The mad Moslems and the CIA have another thing in common: heroin. … In 1996, Tunisian Minister of Justice Sadok Chaabane said that Tunisian Islamists get their funding and political support from (1) Iran (2) Saudi Arabia. According to Chaabane, the 'Islamist' plan is to use Tunisia as "the gateway to its larger neighbors, Algeria and Morocco." Tunisians belong to Sunni Islam, but Chaabane states that Tunisia's Islamist leaders will accept help from wherever they can find it. Of course, some believe that the CIA sees Tunisia as its gateway into oil-rich Algeria and Libya. And the CIA has been happy to use militant Moslems in Kosovo, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Of course this is all speculation. But the patterns repeat. Over and over, one finds the CIA (and MI6 and the Mossad) involved in regime destabilization. At the same time, a militant leader who has received safe-haven in the West heads back to his country. It is not a new strategy – if that is what it is. Germany and France provided safe-harbor for Vladimir Ilyich Lenin before he returned to Russia.

After Thoughts

We shall wait and watch. If by some chance militant Islam does gain (regain?) a foothold in Tunisia and if its influence begins to spread to other countries in the region – and maybe even lynchpin states like Egypt – we surely shall see numerous articles in the West decrying its dangerous expansion. This will not surprise us; we are diligent in our attempts to scrutinize the memes of the elite. It will be a predictable dominant social theme: The political elite demands further restriction of Western freedoms – more security checkpoints for domestic citizens, etc. – to combat Islamic expansion. Is this, then, to be the future of Tunisia, the Middle East and the West?

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