Studies II: Religion, Politics & Leftists, Tunisia (I)

This post is a part of a new series of posts which will consist of translations and excerpts from the communiques, statements, pamphlets and other literature from left-wing political parties in the Arab world, especially Tunisia (others as well, Egypt, Algeria and Mauritania in particular). The selections will focus on foreign policy, women’s issues, relations with other political factions (mainly Islamists and other leftist tendencies), ideology, rhetoric and general worldview. The purpose of this series is to put into English elements of the contemporary Arab political discourse which are generally neglected in western and English-language reportage and analysis while the of Islamist tendency receives extensive, if not excessive coverage. The translations in this series should not be taken as this blogger endorsing or promoting the content of particular materials: the objective is to increase access to and understanding of the contemporary Arab left by making its perspectives known, especially in areas of interest and relevance to English-speakers. This series will include both leftist and Arab nationalist [party] documents, statements, communiques, articles and so on. The series will attempt to touch on as many of the main (and interest) leftist parties as possible.

The following is a series of communiques from Tunisian left/center left political parties translated from Arabic. The purpose of this set of translations is to flesh out some of the discourses about competition with Islamist factions on the Tunisian left; naturally this post cannot reflect the totality of that discourse.

The communiques here were selected because: (1) they all deal with either physical or rhetorical/ideological competition between individual left or center-left parties which are generally secular in orientation and Islamist parties (an-Nahdha) or factions (groups of Salafis, religious activists, etc.); (2) each reflects the increasing polarization between secular (or semi-secular) and religious factions in Tunisia and the efforts taken by the secular parties to respond to this tension and deal with similar questions and incidents; and (3) each in its own way reflects the kinds of ideological and tactical challenges faced by Tunisian left-wing and secular parties when faced by competition from religious opponents and those parties’ style of response to these attacks and criticisms based on religious grounds. Common threads include: the use of mosques as political bully pulpits; accusations of atheism or apostasy as a means of discrediting communists and leftists; the use of violence by supporters of religious groups against communists and leftists; the position of Islamists toward freedom of thought, political tolerance and labor rights, along with other issues. Translations of communiques and tracts dealing with religious issues in more depth will come in later posts in this series. These particular communiques are relatively recent (from early/mid-June-early July) and reflect an increase in tension among various Tunisian political factions (coming in the same period as recent demonstrations, clashes with security forces and deepening suspicion between “the street” and the transitional authorities; translations dealing with these other questions are soon to follow as well). In the meantime these brief translations will introduce the subject in general in this series.

The communiques here come from: (1) The Tunisian Communist Workers’ Party (PCOT); (2) The Progressive Democratic Party (PDP); (3) The NationalDemocratic Action Party (PTPD); and (4) The Ettajdid Movement (Mouvement Ettajdid). Short summaries on each of these parties can be found here. The PCOT has been discussed in this series before, here. The PDP is a center-left/social democratic party headed by Maya Jribi and Ahmed Najib Chebbi. The PDP was founded in 1983 as the Progressive Social Rally, drawing from a Marxist backdrop and revising its name and ideological framework in 2000, move toward a more centrist position. It became was active against censorship and other violations by the Ben Ali government. It publishes a newspaper called al-Mawkif. It tends to poll second after an-Nahdha in opinion polls. It participated in legislative elections under the Ben Ali regime until 2004 and has a relatively middle class base of support. The PTPD is a small Marxist party, founded in 2005 and led by Abderrazak Hammami. It publishes a newspaper called Al-Iraada and was legalized only after the January uprising. Ettajdid is the former Tunisian Communist Party (PCT), reformed and now in a social democratic orientation. It publishes the Attariq al-Jadida newspaper. It was legal under Ben Ali and fielded candidates in the 2005 and 2009 elections and tends toward an aggressive stance on the separation of religion and politics. 


“No to using houses of worship to exploit and settle political scores”


DATE: 12 June, 2011


The Tunisian Communist Workers Party of Kairouan declares in the wake of exposure by the followers of the Nahdha Movement during the Friday sermon of 10 June, and ongoing attacks against them calling them atheists in order to settle political accounts on matters that have nothing to with worship.

First: Rejects the use of houses of worship to pass on political speeches or to incite against political parties, as was done by the former president.

Second: To all concerned, communism is a vision of a political, intellectual, economic, social and cultural alternative, not a doctrine hostile to religion.

Third: Emphasizes the communists’ respect for freedom of belief and the right to worship without coercion or domination, and the sanctity of mosques as places of worship and calls for their neutrality so that they do not become platforms for political and ideological conflicts.

— Tunisian Communist Workers’ Party, Kairouan Branch

2. PDP

“Statement: Attack on the party activist  Wafaa al-Jawwah . . .  The an-Nahdah Movement holds responsibility”


DATE: 6 June, 2011

On Sunday, 5 June, in the city of Sfax Wafaa al-Jawwah, an activist of the Sfax group of the Democratic Progressive Party and the National Office for Women, suffered an attack of extreme violence resulting in her breaking her arm by a man named Fawzi al-Rais who openly declared his affiliation with the an-Nahdah Movement while participating in the volunteer clean-up effort after World Environment Day accompanied by a number of party activists in the city, and comrades of the his party who subjected participants to a campaign to raise awareness of the party’s ideology and to encourage citizens to attack and tear at posters and to pressure the group to leave the place.

The Progressive Democratic Party:

  • Strongly condemns this blatant abuse of activists, constant attacks and the threatening of its comrades who were forced to leave the place;
  • Holds the an-Nahdah Movement and its supporters responsible for dragging the country back down the slides of violence and call on them to [recognize] the need to respect the rules of peaceful competition between political parties and comply with the requirements of the transition’s route and its security;
  • Decides to take legal action to track down the offenders for [their] use of extreme violence and their assault on freedom of political activity;
  • Calls on all human rights and political forces to condemn this attack and respond to serious attempts to drag the country into political violence and its dangerous repercussions.

— Maya Jribi, Secretary General on behalf of the Politburo, 6 June, 2011

“Communique: On the abuses at the Afric’Art Hall”


DATE: 27 June, 2011

Following a violent assault suffered by Mr. Habib Belhadj, director of Afric’Art Hall, and a number of artists and attendees, at the hands of extremist fundamentalist groups who do not accept differences and do not see a way to defend their views other than by means of force, the Democratic Progressive Party:

  • Strongly condemns these backward methods and calls attention to the seriousness of this which represents a threat to the political process and to building [our] nascent democracy, for which Tunisians have sacrificed dearly and preciously;
  • Expresses its full solidarity with Mr. Habib Belhadj and all those caught up in the attack;
  • Calls on the government to track down the attackers and bring them to justice;
  • Emphasizes the need for concerted efforts to defend the values of moderation, freedom of thought and creativity regardless of the degree of consensus and differences of intellectual or creative opinion.

— Tunis, 27 June, 2011

“Statement: The Progressive Democratic Party strongly condemns all that would harm Tunisians’ religious feelings”


DATE: 30 June, 2011

In the wake of what transpired during the radio dialogue between Messrs. Abdel-Fattah Morou and Mohamed Talebi, which amounted to a degree offensiveness, [. . . ] shocking the feelings of Tunisians, the Progressive Democratic Party:

  • Strongly condemns all that would offend the sacred doctrines and coming from decorum in dealing with people’s beliefs, from any party regardless of his theological or doctrinal position;
  • Considers that the Tunisian people do not need to rediscover themselves or elements of its Arabo-Islamic identity, which was and still is among the most important pillars of national identity, and that freedom of opinion and expression must adhere to the ethnics of dialogue and away from all manifestations of provocation or dismissing [others’] beliefs;
  • Calls for not following efforts to drag the country into a maze of strife and sectarianism and blocking the road ahead of all calls to extremism and narrow-mindedness and the fortification of the country against manifestations of violence, working to achieve the objectives of our revolution for freedom and dignity raising the issue of democratic transition and facing the challenges on the political, economic and social fronts in a healthy democratic climate framing the political process without deviating from its [the revolution’s] objectives.

— Politburo of the Progressive Democratic Party, 30 June, 2011


“Statement: A Response to the Smear Campaign”


DATE: 5 July, 2011

After a campaign of distortion, which affected leaders in the core of the party to the extent of slander [defamation] and takfir from some obscurantist elements of takfirism, presenting some associated with the political party by promoting allegations that elements of the National Democratic Action Party of Sidi Bou Rouis were behind tearing down their flyers which were on the facades of shops and on walls.

While the National Democratic Action Party, Siliana Branch notes the need to refrain from smear campaigns and systematically baseless accusations and is directed against it, it calls on political parties that contradict it ideologically to respect the literature of political activity and that competition between parties should not go beyond the political sphere and extend into other arenas, especially the religious domain.

The party also emphasizes the need to respect the Islamic faith, which is followed by the majority of the people and condemns any exploitation of religion for narrow, partisan propaganda and that the failure to convince the masses of iffy factionalism does not justify resorting to emotional rhetoric and playing on the religious sentiments of the people. It also warns the party that the behavior of some associates of the an-Nahda Movement pushes toward extremism with some groups possibly resorting to violence, therefore presenting a threat to social harmony and undermining the formidable solidarity between citizens.

The National Democratic Action Party aligns with the affected classes and all kinds of people going with the masses of our people into the countryside and also in the cities in economic and social programs in accordance with the general perception of the basis for an equitable distribution of wealth and working to establish a system of legislation and law to ensure that alternative. Also the welfare of the population and the improvement of their standard of living can only be achieved by pushing [up] the pace of production and developing the national economy and consolidating the values of rationality, equality and fighting all forms of foreign exploitation of national resources, whether human or material.

— 5 July, 2011

4. Ettajdid

“Press release from the Ettajdid Movement after the attack on the Afric’Art Cinema


DATE: 26 June, 2011

Following the violent attack on the eve of Sunday 26 June, 2011 the art cinema “Afric’Art,” where a few dozens of fanatical acts of sabotage and bullying against the owners of the cinema and threats against attendees of a cultural event organized by the association “Lem Echaml” under the slogan of “Hands off the artists”, the Ettajdid Movement expresses its condemnation of this barbaric attack, which is not the first of its kind, and which represents slide that seriously threatens cultural life and the minimum standards of individual and collective freedom, as expressed in the movement for severe denunciation of the nefarious actions who decided to depart from the law pitching themselves as the protectors of Islam and the managers of the consciences and minds [of others], terrorizing citizens and they want to wrestle control by force and impose patterns of isolated and backward thinking and behavior upon society. The Ettajdid Movement expresses its full solidarity with the victims of this attack and stands determined along side artists and intellectuals, calling upon all political parties and associations and citizens to resist the phenomena of attacks on meetings and events no matter what the challenge, and it calls for the authorities concerned to protect freedom of expression and assembly and exercise their full rigor in punishing the perpetrators of these attacks according to the law.

— Tunis, 26 June, 2011, First Secretary of the Ettajdid Movement, Ahmed Ibrahim


4 thoughts on “Studies II: Religion, Politics & Leftists, Tunisia (I)

  1. Hello,

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that there various violent incidents that have been attributed to Islamists over the past months were the work of individuals close to the HuT and with no organic links to An-Nahda.

    You don’t need to have any sympathy for this Islamists to detect the duplicity of “center” parties who denounce rising sectarianism and who are in parallel trying to associate An-Nahda with the guys behind the attack on the cinema.

    It seems to me that the PDP, which had cordial links with An-Nahda in the wake of the uprising, has now made the choice to associate itself with elements of the former regime elite, in a move that reflects Chebbi’s presidential ambitions. There seems to be a concerted move from both the “old guard” and the centrist parties to play up the Islamist fear. Nahda leaders are reportedly very bitter at Chebbi’s change of stance.

    Now the interesting thing will be whether the more leftist parties buy into this or understand that the divide should be between old figures and newcomers rather than between secularists and Islamists.


    • I think that analysis generally correct. There is of course precedence for this in terms of the PDP and some of the other opposition parties re: Nahda. The Nahda people have bitterness with some of these parties left over from the early 90s.

      The farther left parties have some understanding with an-Nahda re: the centrists (a lot of the recent protests and victims of mobs or police have been mixed Islamist/leftist crowds or leftist meetings). They feel they have less to loose in this regard than, say, the PDP, which would benefit substantially from some degree of collaboration with the old ruling tendency. There is a division in this way among members of the middle class, those trending toward the more restless “kick out the bums” type of attitude (communists, many Islamists, for example) and those who are more conciliatory with respect to the participation and position of ex-regime people (probably greater in number). Of course there is this overriding fear over the religious issue; I was told by a Tunisian in an email that the “Salafis” people mention are agents of the police, agents provocateurs. I don’t have any way of verifying that; but I think it sort of shows how that part of the situation is playing in some quarters.

      I’m still preparing my thoughts on these disruptions so please do keep sharing your thoughts!

  2. Wow that was strange. I just wrote an really long
    comment but after I clicked submit my comment
    didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over
    again. Anyhow, just wanted to say fantastic blog!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s