An old rift in Arab politics seems to play up again about 2 years after the revolutions, or what some call “the Arab spring”. Anyone who’s a bit familiar with Arabic political history knows that from the 60’s on Arab nationalism was in all of the Middle East and North Africa the most dominant political ideology. In almost all cases Arab nationalism was mixed with socialism….the best example of that is former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. Without a doubt the most popular and charismatic Arab president ever.
Without getting to much into history, from the late 80’s onwards Islamism became more dominant in all of the Arab world however at the expense of the nationalists. An important contributor to that has been the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979. Islamism in the Arab world has in almost all countries be closely linked with the Muslim brotherhood. The struggle all around the Arab world between Arab nationalism (mixed with socialism) and the Muslim brotherhood is historic due to its ideological differences and has at times been bloody as well.
The struggle is back?
In 2013 and after revolutions in Tunisia, Libya, Jemen, Egypt and the current civil war in Syria it seems the same ideological struggle is back once again. Although (apart from Syria) not as bloody as it has sometimes been in the past. The alliances and ideological differences are as followed: Islamists in all of the previously mentioned Arab countries are supported by Qatar and until recently Saudi Arabia as well. Arab nationalists and socialists are ideologically seen closer to the last bastion of it in the Arab world; the Syrian baath regime. It is of course important to mention that this does not necessarily mean that an Arab nationalist in Tunisia turns a blind eye to Assad´s failures or injustice because he shares with him the same nationalistic and socialist ideology. Nevertheless they do consider the regime in Syria a proud Arab nationalist state, defying Zionist occupation of Palestine and has therefore fallen victim to the Qatari-Saudi-American-Israeli-Turkish coalition which is “trying to get it down by sending hundreds of jihadists to Syria”. And in this picture the old struggle between Arab nationalists and Islamists comes back to the forefront once again. This is the case because 2 years on after the revolutions many Arab countries are now government by a Muslim Brotherhood type of government which Nationalists see as a threat to democracy itself and Qatari interfence into Tunisian affairs.
So what does this lead to in Tunisia then?
Arab nationalist & socialist opposition parties carrying Syrian flags when they demonstrate against the Nahda-led government for example. Or banning Al Jazeera journalists from covering their demonstration when they find out they (Al Jazeera) are actually trying to.
Chokri Belaid, assassinated last February, was such a socialist and vehemently opposed to Islamism itself and Ennahda specifically. At his funeral, attended by tens of thousands Tunisians, Syrian flags could be seen. He criticized the Tunisian government more than once for cutting all of its ties with the Assad-regime. Ennahda has the backing of Qatar and so does the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt. This means that they can expect Al Jazeera (owned by the Emir of Qatar) to broadcast many of their demonstrations supporting the legitimacy of the government, as anyone familiar with Al Jazeera (Arabic) can see daily. Or covering live every demonstration by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood protesting against the coup that deposed fformer MB-president Muhamed Morsi.
The clash in Tunisian politics between Nationalist Socialists and Islamists is an ideological and old one. Although less The clash between the Popular Front (led by Hama Hammami) and Ennahda (led by Rashed al-Ghannoushi) is therefore a regional one. When Chokri Belaid was killed last February many other Arab nationalists called his family and political party to offer them their condolences. The fact that the killer was according to the Ministry of Justice an extremist fuelled the historical struggle between both camps and has come back to the forefront again. Between both sides there is obvously a lot of distrust and grievances. It should be mentioned however that Arab socialism never really had a chance in Tunisia as it did have in Egypt (Abdel Nasser), Libya (Khadafi), Syria (Assad baath-regime), Iraq (Saddam’s baath regime) etc. Tunisia sides after the independence from France always at the West’s side whereas many other Arab countries chose to side with the Soviet Union. Until the first elections after the revolution Islamism has also never had a chance to prove its worth. The current government is led by Ennahda and two secular other parties (CPR & Ettakatol).