Emna Menif on Tunisia today: “Moderate Islamism is a western illusion”

IMG_5674The joyful spirit that reverberated throughout Tunisia during the first weeks of the Arab Spring, imbuing particularly young people with high hopes for a future which they would actively shape, has disappeared, Emna Menif stated. One year after the onset of the Arab Spring, the political reality is rather grim.

A medical doctor by training, journalist and political activist Emna Menif founded Kolna Tounes a civil movement, which”promotes Tunisian identity, the synthesis of Berber, Phoenician, and Punic cultural roots, Roman civilization and Byzantine rules along with Arab Islamic linguistic, cultural and doctrinal traditions and Ottoman and European influences” in 2012.

With great passion, she and her colleagues try to bridge the schism between islamists and liberals that has caused the current identity crisis in Tunisia. Menif also works to establish Kolna Tounes as a grassroots citizens’ organization with the goal of building bottom-up democratic structures, which is necessary to overcome the second great problem Tunisia is facing: the constitutional crisis between the majority party, which is leaning towards a theocratic state. “We, the heirs of the Arab Spring Revolution cannot allow them to turn Tunisia into a republic of believers instead of a republic of citizens,” Menif emphasized.

IMG_5676Unfortunately, however, the democratic forces are not united, but are fighting against each other, while in the background the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists are becoming increasingly powerful. The Tunisian Youth, beacon of hope during the Revolution, is withdrawing more and more from active politics, while the schism between the Islamists and the Laics grows greater. “L’islamisme modére c’est une phantasme occidentale – moderate Islamism is a western illusion,” Menif warns, “democracy is not only elections, but both a conviction and a practice.”

The elected government, however, is not delivering the things they promised they would. Meanwhile, the international community has a huge potential influence, but is shying away from taking a concrete stand, foolishly hoping that “democratic processes” will solve the issues. That this isn’t the case is witnessed by the increasingly overburdened institutions. “The main challenge today is to set up durable democratic institutions and to find common ground among opposing ideologies,” according to Menif. Her outlook on Tunisia’s future is, however, obstinately optimistic: “Je vois le future en rose ; nous ne voulons pas exclure les islamistes, mais les islamistes doivent aussi collaborer avec les forces laïques – I see the future in a positive light ;  we don’t want to exclude the islamists, but the islamists must also work with the laics.”

Susan Schneider