Mustafa Akyol writes: It is no secret that in the midst of the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East, Tunisia has emerged as the brightest spot. It is also no secret that Tunisia’s success has been made possible in part by the moderate stance of its main Islamist party, Ennahda, which on May 21 at its party congress announced that it was officially abandoning political Islam. The longtime leader of the party, Rachid Ghannouchi, who was re-elected at the event, vowed to “keep religion far from political struggles” and announced that Ennahda would abandon all its religious activities, including preaching in mosques.
Naturally, this news reminded some of the founding of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) 15 years ago. At that time, the AKP, which came from an “Islamist” political tradition, had also declared a major change in perspective. Similar to Ennahda’s new self-identification as “Muslim democrats,” the AKP’s founders called themselves “conservative democrats.” The term “conservative” in Turkey is often another way of saying “practicing Muslim.” Moreover, Ghannouchi had in the past spoken about the “Turkish experience” and pointed to it as a positive frame of reference.
It is also no secret, however, that the so-called Turkish experience has not been going well lately. The AKP of today, heavily criticized for authoritarianism, is a far cry from the AKP of the early 2000s that was widely praised for its reforms. The common perception of the party, especially its iron-willed leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is that it was “moderate” when weak but turned autocratic after consolidating power. One could therefore argue that if Ennahda is really following in the footsteps of the AKP, it is not a reassuring step. [Continue reading…]