Tunisia licenses first Salafi party

The newly-licensed Islah (Reform) Front will be eligible to take part in parliamentary elections due next year.

Tunisia licenses first Salafi party

 World Bulletin/News Desk

Tunisia government has granted a license to a political party based on Salafi Islam for the first time in one of the most secular Arab nations, the party founder and a government source said on Friday.

Banned under dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who severely repressed Islamists, the moderate Islamist Ennahda party won 42 percent of seats in Tunisia's first free election in October and now leads the government.

But conservative Salafi groups did not take part in that ballot.

The newly-licensed Islah (Reform) Front will be eligible to take part in parliamentary elections due next year.

Mohammed Khoja, the head of the Reform Front told Reuters his Salafists respected democracy and the civil nature of the state. "There are some religious currents that say politics is dirty and does not agree with religion," he said by telephone.

"We say this is not true and we do not agree with them and we say Islam is a religion of freedom and democracy."

A government source confirmed that the license had been granted in accordance with the parties law, which stipulates respect for the civil nature of the Tunisian state.

Until last year, they had tended not seek a role in parliamentary politics, which many denounced as a Western import. But they have begun to shift their position in the aftermath of the Arab Spring uprisings.

In Egypt, where protests unseated Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, Salafis have since played an active role, winning over a quarter of parliament seats and making a bid for the presidency.

In Tunisia, analysts say the rise of Ennahda, which is ruling in coalition with two secular parties, has persuaded some Islamist groups to revise their stance and enter politics.

Ennahda's co-founder and leader, Rached al-Ghannouchi, had said previously that Salafi parties should be licensed as long as they embrace democracy, offering them a stake in the new system rather than locking them out as Ben Ali had done.

The Reform Front is expected to encourage observance of Islamic values, but by democratic means.

"We will not impose anything like clothing or anything else. Our party will be open to all Tunisians who agree with our principles, the principles of reform within the Islamic heritage," said Khoja, whose party, like Ennahda, includes several members who were jailed under Ben Ali.

"But we will not accept any assault on our religious sacraments and we will seek to express the demands of the Muslim people."

The new Salafi party has not yet spelled out what its election platform will be but is expected to woo voters to the right of Ennahda who are not currently represented.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 12 Mayıs 2012, 09:44

Muhammed Öylek