Scholar Tariq Ramadan warns of secular-Islamist split ahead of Tunisia's polls

Karem Yehia in Tunisia, Friday 24 Oct 2014

Ramadan criticised Salafist movements for 'shallow' approach to the Quran

Tariq Ramadan (Photo: Reuters)

Prominent Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan warned of "Islamist-secular polarisation" and "dependency on the West" in Tunisia, ahead of the country's legislative elections on Sunday.

Ramadan gave his speech during a Seminar organised by Tunisian President Moncef Al-Marzouki's Congress for the Republic Party (CPR), giving his thoughts about establishing democracies and achieving social justice.

He said he was banned from entering Tunisia for 28 years, adding that this situation had changed after the 2011 revolution, which led to the ouster of president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

A grandson of the Muslim Brotherhood's founder Hassan Al-Banna, Ramadan, a Swiss citizen, is an internationally known scholar associated with a progressive interpretation of Islam.

During the conference, he criticised Salafist movements in the North African country. "They read Quran based on a shallow approach", argued Ramadan, who is a professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University. "As Muslims of this age, we cannot stand against the humanitarian principles of democracy including respect of ballot boxes, separation of powers, rotation of power and accountability of rulers."

Ramadan slammed "mixing politics with religion" and stated that "good citizens do not impose their religious ideas on others". But the academic rejected comparisons between the Islamic State (IS) militants and Tunisia's Islamist Ennahda party.

Ennahda is one of the strongest parties participating in Sunday's polls. The party, under the leadership of Rachid Ghannouchi, secured a majority with 41 percent of seats during the post-Ben Ali constituent assembly elections in 2011.  After the elections, Ennahda headed a "troika" coalition government with two secular parties, the CFR and the Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties Party (Ettakatol).

However, political clashes with other parties over Ennahda's perceptions about Islam and the killing of two opposition figures - Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi - has pushed the country towards anti-government protests. Ennahda agreed to hand in authority to a transitional government earlier this year in a deal finalised with secular parties and brokered by the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT).

Ramadan emphasised that "he did not come to support a certain political party" and described himself as a "friend to all Tunisians."

But informed sources who preferred to remain anonymous told Ahram Online that Ramadan is a friend of Ghannouchi, believing that his speech at such point of time indicates a "symbolic message of support" from the Ennahda leader to Marzouki's CPR as an ex-coalition partner in the any upcoming presidential elections.

This claim comes in contradiction with Tunisian media reports which reported this week that Ennahda would not back the CPR in the coming parliamentary race.  

The sources pointed out that the "majority of the audience" who attended Ramadan's speech represents a "combination of Ennahda and CPR youth."

Ramadan also called on Tunisia to diversify its international ties and revisit its relationship with Europe and France, saying that the latter has to understand that North Africa is no longer under its control.

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