By Houda Trabelsi
Tunisia has approved a Salafist political party for the first time in the nation’s history. The “Reform Front”, granted license on May 11th, includes a group of leaders who were tried in the 1980s for participation in the Islamic Front.
“The party received the license under the Political Parties Law, which emphasises respect for the civil principles of the state,” an interior ministry press official told Magharebia.
Party chairman and founder Mohamed Khouja said, “The Reform Front is a political party that depends on the approach of the Sunna and the community with the concept of the [Islamic] nation’s rightful predecessors.”
“The political party’s platform does not impose anything, such as dress or other personal conduct concerning Tunisians’ daily life,” he added.
Khouja said his party was committed to the “civil values of the State” and that it “respects the particulars of the democratic experiment in a peaceful framework removed from all forms of violence and hatred across the political spectrum.”
Khouja holds a doctorate in nutritional sciences and has worked as a professor at the University of Tunis, where he was dismissed in 1990 because of his affiliation with the Islamic Front.
In the days before the licensing of the Islamist party, Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali said, “Salafists did not come from Mars. They are our people and our society. We do not want to address the outcomes, but rather the causes.”
“We will not put them in prison as Zine El Abidine Ben Ali did,” he asserted. “The solution is in more freedom that respects the law,” Jebali said, adding, “We tell them you have your ideas as well as your beliefs, so convince the people.”
Bassel Torjman, an expert in Maghreb affairs and specialist in Islamic movements, told Magharebia that licensing the party was “a precedent in the Arab Maghreb region, as it reflects an intellectual background incompatible with democracy, the peaceful transfer of power, and the civil state that the majority of Tunisians demand”.
“The aim of the Salafi groups is application of Sharia law and establishment of an Islamic state and they consider the current phase a transition to reach power,” Torjman said.
Torjman continued his analysis, wondering whether the new party would work within the civil system and respect laws or adopt a Salafist jihadist approach.
“This move encourages these currents to put their ideas and experiences forward with more daring to the street and to target a specific category comprising its select circle, which is the youth in schools and universities and the unemployed.
Many Tunisians supported approving a Salafist party in the framework of freedom of political activity after the revolution.
“Granting a license to a Salafist party is a good indicator of the richness of political activity in Tunisia,” said Mohamed Etajer. “Each movement has the right to operate within the legal framework, and those able to convince people, success to them in the elections.”
Monther Belajouza said that the approval “reduces the possibility of secret activities of these people and brings them under the scrutiny of the law”.
“I personally, despite my secular orientation, do not see an objection to the licensing of such Islamist movements in Tunisia, so they can take their lot like others,” Belajouza added.