Salafists under spotlight ahead of Tunisia poll

Karem Yehia, Sunday 19 Oct 2014

New Salafist parties are unlikely to challenge Tunisia's leading Islamist party Ennahda at upcoming parliamentary poll

Rabeaa Elsmaaly (Courtesy of Tunisian news website Al Joumhouria)

The candidacy of Rabeaa Elsmaaly, who would be Tunisia's first niqab-wearing MP, has brought to prominence the issue of Islamists coming from outside the country's main Islamist party, Ennahda.

Elsmaaly is on the electoral list of the Salafist party Jabhat Al-Islah in Medenine governorate. The list calls for applying Sharia law and the annulment of personal status laws, which are seen by secularists and modernists as big gains for Tunisian woman since they were first adopted in the days of Bourguiba in 1956.

Most Salafist groups in Tunisia, such as the Islamic Liberation Party, oppose elections and refuse to recognise the country's constitution.

Over the last two years, some Salafists have applied for licenses to form political parties, such as the Justice and Development Party and Al-Isalah.

The Tunisian authorities thought it is important to give licenses to such parties to help combat the growing jihadist movement.

For example, Ansar Al-Shariaa has been held responsible for terrorist attacks against politicians and soldiers over the last three years.

However, Samy Al-Brahmi, a researcher into Salafism, believes the authorised parties will be on the margins of the Salafist movement.

He told Al-Ahram in an unpublished interview that the main body of the Salafist movement does not believe in democracy and rejects secular laws.

None of the authorised Salafist parties have much support.

Observers of Tunisian politics expect Ennahda to remain the largest Islamist party in the country.

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