Political Islam in Tunisia: A Discussion with Shadi Hamid

Content from the Brookings Doha Center is now archived. In September 2021, after 14 years of impactful partnership, Brookings and the Brookings Doha Center announced that they were ending their affiliation. The Brookings Doha Center is now the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, a separate public policy institution based in Qatar.

In an interview with Tunisia Live, Shadi Hamid talks about the rise of Tunisia’s ruling Islamist Ennahdha party since the ouster of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Hamid’s analysis addresses challenges facing Ennahdha two years after the revolution, tensions within the ruling party, and more generally the socio-political landscape of Tunisia.

Hamid says the role of Ennahdha in Tunisia is unique to the role of equivalent Islamist parties in the transitioning Middle East for multiple reasons. First, the changing role of Ennahdha in Tunisia over the last two years is much more striking than the changing role of Islamist parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which already had a significant foothold in Egyptian society. Second, Ennahdha’s movement and political party are one in the same. Hamid says a lack of distinction between the two renders Ennahdha’s experience more problematic than if Ennahdha’s movement and party were separated. If Ennahdha fails politically, Hamid suggests the failure could potentially undermine the entire Islamic movement of Tunisia. Third, Hamid says Ennahdha is unique in that the gap between the movement’s liberal, centrist, and conservative wings is quite large.

Outside of the Ennahdha movement, Hamid said Tunisia as a country is also unique from other transitioning countries, due to a relatively homogeneous population and clear secular influence. Hamid says this secular influence puts a limit on how far Ennahdha can take its policies, given the fact that the government’s opposition is vibrant and organized. Hamid concludes that stark differences between positions held by the opposition, Ennahdha, and the Salafis about the role of religion in public life assured political polarization in Tunisia was inevitable.

Watch the interview by Tunisia Live »

On February 19, Tunisia Live published a previously unreleased portion of its interview with Shadi Hamid. In contrast to the first video, this clip focuses on the differences between Islamism in Egypt and Tunisia. As Hamid notes in the interview, this topic is the focus of his ongoing book project on the evolution of Islamist parties before and after the Arab Uprising.

Watch the second video released by Tunisia Live »