Resurgent Ḥizb al-Nahḍah in the Post-Authoritarian Setting
Ḥizb al-Nahḍah, a religio-political denomination established formally in 1981, experienced brutal persecution under the two ancien régimes. Both Bourguiba and Bin Ali were hell-bent on suppressing its expression, engagement, and evolution. In this bitter bidding contest, Bin Ali went for a final onslaught against al-Nah ḍah; exterminating it from the Tunisian milieu, albeit temporarily. After a gap of almost twenty years, Bin Ali’s despotic rule that was characterized by a culture wherein “personal relations trumped qualifications and where crony capitalism allowed those in a position of power to amass fabulous riches” finally came to an end. With Bin Ali’s departure, Ḥizb al-Nahḍah remerged in the socio-political scene of Tunisia as a dominant political entity. A new chapter, in this way, opened in the history of al-Nahḍah surely for transforming its theoretical-based activism into practical-based activism.
Ḥizb al-Nahḍah, while governing the country with the other two partners―Congress for the Republic and Ettakatol, encountered countless challenges. The place and role of Islam in the country, economic affluence, democracy, freedom of speech, human rights etc. are but few grave issues that dominated the environment both within and beyond. While presenting the dichotomous model for governance, the Party on the one side adopted the Western ideals like democracy, human rights, gender equality, and pluralism and on the other hand emphasized on the promotion of Islamic values and ideals in the country. Therefore, such a reconciliatory approach suggests that al-Nah ḍah aims to preserve Tunisia’s Islamic identity within the culture of democracy and modernity. For corroborating these facts, it is tempting here to quote the famous sociologist, Asef Bayat, verbatim:
[The Islamic Groups are] not anti-Islamic or secular; a post-Islamist movement dearly upholds religion but also highlights citizens’ rights and is trying to reconcile faith with freedom, Islam and liberty; religiosity with rights. It aspires [on the whole] to a pious society within a democratic state.
In the post-revolution Tunisia, debate over the issue of incorporation of Shari̇̄‘ah in the new Constitution of the country polarized the culture of politics in the country. It was the Article 1 of the Constitution that was vigorously debated and discussed in the National Constituent Assembly. Al-Nah ḍah was supposed, as the pressure mounted, to clarify its position vis-à-vis Shari̇̄‘ah. Finally, the Party on 26 March 2012 confirmed its full support of retaining Article 1 of the Constitution, which reads: “Tunisia is a free, independent, sovereign state; Islam is its religion; Arabic is its language; and the Republic is its form of government.”Al-Nah ḍah along with its leadership maintained:
We find inclusion of the word Islam in several constitutions. However, we do believe in a more profound philosophy that implies, ‘if Islam resides in the mind and heart of the people then we do not need the terms like Islam and Shari̇̄‘ah to be incorporated in the Constitution.’
Such declaration, including other declarations as well, discomforted various Islamic groups who strictly advocate the implementation of Shari̇̄‘ah and oppose the Western secular norms. These groups, voicing for the greater role of Islam in the country, severely condemned al-Nahḍah when the latter decided against the incorporation of Shari̇̄‘ah in the Constitution. Therefore, these Islamic groups (including Salafis and many base members of al-Nahḍah) accused al-Nahḍah of being enemy to Islam. However, the Party’s leader, Rāshid al-Ghannūshi̇̄, in a counter statement clarified that the country’s legislation was already based on the principles of Islam, and to confront over this subject (of imposing Shari̇̄‘ah) is an unnecessary activity not required at this moment. It seems that the experiences and encounters with the past two regimes of Bourguiba and Bin Ali have compelled the Party and its leadership to modify and moderate their position regarding various issues like the one discussed above.
Rāshid al-Ghannūshi̇̄, besides rejecting the notion of imposition of the Shari̇̄‘ah on the society by the State, espouses that al-Nahḍah is not required to take up a top-down approach. Unlike Bourguiba and Bin Ali, Ghannūshi̇̄ opposes the idea of imposing a particular ideology or thought on the society. Similar views were expressed by Jawhara Ehiss, member of al-Nah ḍah’s office of women’s affairs and the former member of the Constituent Assembly, when she held that “Islam is a personal matter” and for that reason the State is not supposed to diktat religious terms upon the people. A supporter of al-Nah ḍah, Tirad Labbane, in an interview with Dalmasso and Cavatorta declared:
[O]ur commitment to Islam does not mean that we want to impose what we do on others. In that sense you could say that we are anti-Salafist because we do not approve of imposing behaviour. If you want to wear a mini-skirt it is not my problem, if you do not want to wear the veil it is also not my problem. Choices have to be left to individuals; the state cannot impose behaviour either.
The declaration, thus, implies that al-Nahḍah foresees the consequence of ‘force based policy’. It is also fully aware about the pros and cons of thrusting a specific ideology upon the society. Its conscious responsive nature reminds it that if it would impose, by force, things on the people, then definitely its growing charm and popularity will be affected drastically.
Al-Nahḍah frequent public statements were aimed at gaining publicity on the one hand and clearing its position over various issues on the other. In a similar bid, the statement made by the Party’s member, Said Ferjani, that it will guard “both the bikini and the burqa” gives an impression that al-Nah ḍah anticipates such a model wherein personal freedom and personal choice will be guaranteed and also the individual’s action will be neither prohibited nor enforced. A section of the society (including some liberal intellectuals and capitalists) believed―prior to October 2011 elections―that if al-Nahḍah comes to the power it will amend CPS, compel the women to wear Burqa, ban tourism and would impose other Islamic teachings as well. Responding to such concerns Rāshid al-Ghannūshi̇̄ stated:
[I]f an Islamic government comes to power in Tunisia, it will retain the status of the country as a tourist destination adding that his party would not prohibit alcohol or prevent women sunbathing in bikinis.
He further claimed that: “wearing hijab is a matter of personal choice; and that stoning and amputation cannot be seen as contemporary punishments.” Nonetheless, in spite of recognizing the freedom of the individual, al-Nah ḍah at the same time posed certain restrictions as well. For example, Souad Abdul Rahim (a prominent unveiled female member of al-Nahḍah) expressed that women are to be given freedom but within certain prescribed limits, and that too to a certain degree where the violation of Divine Commandments does not take place. The buck did not stop here as Souad went on to state that single mothers are a disgrace to Tunisia, so they “do not have the right to exist,” as there are limits on “full and absolute freedom,” and that one should not “make excuses for people who have sinned.” In a similar tone, Samir Dilou (former Human Rights Minster) on the question of homosexuality in the country asserted that there are limits in case of freedom of expression.
Arguments and counter arguments between al-Nahḍah and the Secularists over various issue especially those related to CPS and other women’s rights continued. In this regard, al-Nahḍah assured the secular groups that no amendment will be made in the CPS of the country. However, the issue that surfaced in the post-revolution Tunisia was mostly related to the wearing of Niqāb. In this regard, al-Nahḍah in its statements has always maintained that it is a personal matter of a woman and she has every right to choose what to wear and what not. Al-Nahḍah also affirms that it neither supports nor opposes the wearing of Niqāb and at the same time it endorses the philosophy of right to wear whatever. The Movement also claims that it is the main guarantor of women’s rights in the country which is very much evident that out of 49 women representatives in the NCA, 42 were associated with al-Nahḍah. Furthermore, al-Nah ḍah time and again pledges to advocate values like democracy, civil rights, justice, freedom of speech and pluralism as is manifested below:
The power of Tunisia, her progressiveness, the protection and permanence of her independence, her sovereignty and her republican system; based on the separation between powers, the independence of the judiciary, democracy, (good) governance, equality between its citizens, economic growth, social development and the adherence to our Arabo-Islamic national identity.
Ghannūshi̇̄ together with al-Nahḍah continuously supported pluralism, power-sharing, and multi party politics. In the post-revolution atmosphere, it is interesting that the public statements of Ghannūshi̇̄ and those of other al-Nahḍah members have been consistently consistent with its pluralism rhetoric. Many public statements of al-Nahḍah like the Party “is open to negotiations with all willing partners” and “the importance of reconciliation even if [al-Nahḍah] did not win a plurality” followed by its practical cooperation and coordination with secular parties in government formation and constitution making signifies a crucial step toward the institutionalization of pluralism in the country. “We believe” addressed Rāshid al-Ghannūshi̇̄ “in reconciliation, collaboration, partnership, and sharing of things with the other parties. Notwithstanding an environment surrounded by hostility and animosity, we tended toward consensus building. We are, therefore, learning how to reconcile differences and diversity of opinions in our country.” These statements were not mere statements; rather their reflection was observed practically as well. In the post-authoritarian period, its major engagements were characterized by active politics reflected in peaceful negotiations (sometimes contention was also present) and solutions with diverse political actors.
Al-Nahḍah as a political faction has a very significant and multidimensional role to play for securing its future in the country. Its mission, like many other Islamic currents, overall, and as has been highlighted by El-Fatih (Professor at the Department of Political Science at International Islamic University, Malaysia), is to assimilate "specific Western civilizational values [like democracy, pluralism, freedom etc.] and [reproduce] them thereof into the Islamic environs and its epistemological system [for instance in Tunisia].  Further, it has indulged in the spasms of complex and convoluted endeavours to negotiate or reconcile relationship between various entities. This has led the Party to show a transition within its own strategy and thereby accommodate certain new policies as well. Overall and most importantly while in power, al-Nah ḍah’s theoretical expression, in most of the cases, remained in harmony with its practical engagement. Compatibility between sayings and doings is what chiefly characterizes al-Nahḍah’s engagement in the post-authoritarian setting.
*Mohammad Dawood Sofi is presently pursuing his PhD on "Contemporary Challenges to Islam: A Critique of al-Nahdah of Tunisia" in the Department of Islamic Studies, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), Aligarh, India (since 2012). Author of History of Islamic Civilization (2013), his publications have appeared in Contemporary Arab Affairs (Routledge), London; Islamic Quarterly, London; CEMMIS, Greece; Hamdard Islamicus, Pakistan; Journal of Islamic Thought and Civilization, Pakistan; and Hazara Islamicus, Pakistan.
 Timo Behr andMika Aaltola, “The Arab Uprising: Causes, Prospects and Implications,” The Finnish Institute of International Affairs, March 2011: 1-10, p. 3
 Asef Bayat, “The Post-Islamist Revolutions,” Foreign Affairs, 26 April, 2011, http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/67812/asef-bayat/the-post-islamist-revolutions accessed on 07 March, 2014
 For a detailed information about the issue of greater role of Shari̇̄‘ah in the post-revolution constitution making in Tunisia see, George Sadek, “The Role of Islamic Law in Tunisia’s Constitution and Legislation Post-Arab Spring,” The Law Library of Congress, May 2013: 1-5
 Al-Nahḍah saw an in-house ideological polarization; the foundational membership represented and advocated an unequivocal restoration of Shari̇̄‘ah and the top level members of the Party called for a moderate approach, thus, relegating Shari̇̄‘ah to the individual level. In this case, Salafis welcomed and supported the former’s view throughout.
 Retrieved from http://confinder.richmond.edu/admin/docs/Tunisiaconstitution.pdf accessed on 17 March, 2014
 Speech delivered by Rāshid al-Ghannūshi̇̄ at Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh on 8 April, 2015. In this event, the author was present there and has recorded the statement himself. It should be noted that―as the lecture was in Arabic―wherever the reference will be cited, the translation will be mine. [Hereafter cited as Ghannūshi̇̄, AMU]
 As quoted in Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, “Historic departure or temporary marriage? The Left–Islamist alliance in Tunisia,” Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict: Pathways toward Terrorism and Genocide, 5: 3, November, 2012: 196-207, p. 201
 Anne Wolf, “An Islamist ‘renaissance’? Religion and politics in post-revolutionary Tunisia,” The Journal of North African Studies, 18: 4, September, 2013: 560-573, p. 567
 Emanuela Dalmasso and Francesco Cavatorta, “Democracy, Civil Liberties and the Role of Religion after the Arab Awakening: Constitutional Reforms in Tunisia and Morocco,” Mediterranean Politics, 18: 2, July, 2013: 225-241, p. 237
 Teije Hidde Donker, “Re-emerging Islamism in Tunisia: Repositioning Religion in Politics and Society,” Mediterranean Politics, 18: 2, July, 2013: 207-224, p. 212
 Interview of Said Ferjani (a key figure of al-Nahḍah) with Stephen Sackur, available online at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/hardtalk/9704610.stm
 Eymen Gamha, “Ennahda (Renaissance) –???? ???????,” Tunisia Live, 26 September, 2011, retrieved from http://www.tunisia-live.net/2011/09/26/party-profileennahda/#stha sh.4M50DvFf. dpuf accessed on 07 March, 2014
 Sadok Ayari, “Rached Ghannouchi: “We Will Not Ban Alcohol and Bikinis,” Tunisia Live, 16 July, 2011, retrieved from http://www.tunisia-live.net/2011/07/16/ ennahdha-will-not-ban-alco hol-and-bikinis/ accessed on 08 March, 2014
 Sara O’Rourke, “Women’s Rights in Tunisia: A “Non-Issue” at the Center of the Debate,” in P. T. Hopmann and I. W. Zartman, eds., Tunisia: Understanding Conflict 2012 (Johns Hopkins University, SAIS, ND) p. 72; Kouichi Shirayanagi, “Ennahda Spokeswoman SouadAbderrahim: Single Mothers Are a Disgrace to Tunisia,” Tunisia Live, November 09, 2011, retrieved from http://www.tunisia-live.net/2011/11/09/ennahda-spokeswoman-souad-abderrahim-single-mother s-are-a-disgrace-to-tunisia/ accessed on 08 March, 2014
 Aaron Y. Zelin, “Ennahda’s Tight Rope Act on Religion,” in Marc Lynch, ed., Islamists in a Changing Middle East (Foreign Policy Group, 2012) pp. 42-43
 Anne Wolf & Raphaël Lefèvre, “Revolution under threat: the challenges of the ‘Tunisian Model,’” The Journal of North African Studies, 17: 3, May, 2012: 559-563, p. 561
 O’Rourke, Women’s Rights in Tunisia, op. cit., pp. 73-74
 As quoted in Donker, op. cit., p. 212
 Melanie Cammett, “The Limits of Anti-Islamism in Tunisia,” in Marc Lynch, ed., Islamists in a Changing Middle East (Foreign Policy Group, 2012) p. 41
 Zelin, op. cit., p. 43
 The pluralism or power-sharing theory was further strengthened by many other similar statements. For instance, Rāshid al-Ghannūshi̇̄ voiced emphatically that: “We will congratulate the winner and will collaborate with them just as other parties should do the same if we end up winning; Tunisia is in need of everyone. The keyword is reconciliation, our foremost concern is reconciliation in composing the upcoming government without regard to ideological differences.” Zelin, op. cit., p. 43
 Ghannūshi̇̄, AMU, op. cit.
 El Fatih A AbdelSalam, “Islam, Secularism and Democracy: The Predicament of Contemporary Muslim Polities,” Intellectual Discourse, 12: 2, 2004: 205-217, p. 216