In response to rising tensions with Wahhabi influences, Tunisian Minister of Religious Affairs Nourredine al-Khademi held a press conference on Wednesday reiterating that “Tunisia is not a land of jihad” and vowing to retake control of over 100 mosques that “have been radicalized and are out of control,” Arab media outlets report.
Since the ouster of former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, hundreds of millions of dollars of funding for Wahhabi-affiliated mosques and schools have poured into the country. Tunisian Islamists have also gained strength following the release of thousands of men of their ranks from prisons previously controlled by the country’s secular dictatorship.
According to the Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat, tensions between the moderate government and Wahhabi forces reached a boiling point last Sunday when the Tunisian government banned a conference sponsored by the Ansar Al-Shariah in the ancient city of Kairouan. The group boasts over 100,000 official members and has been held responsible for rising political violence in and around the capital, Tunis.
After the government, fearing violence, nixed the event, violence ensued nonetheless, leaving one person dead and dozens injured.
Objecting to Ansar al-Sharia’s demands to impose a more conservative lifestyle on the Tunisian people, Al-Khademi said that “any attempts to enforce a new lifestyle on Tunisians is rejected. Violence is unacceptable in all its forms, whether for religious or political reasons. Violence is condemned and forbidden in Islam and is entirely contrary to the benefits of the revolution.”
‘Violence is unacceptable in all its forms, whether for religious or political reasons. Violence is condemned and forbidden in Islam and is entirely contrary to the benefits of the revolution’
The London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi reports that Ansar al-Sharia has responded to the Al-Khademi’s comments with a nasty post on its Facebook page. The post states that “we will unleash a terrible surprise on the enemies of religion and the bringers of humiliation and rage. All true defenders of Islam will stand together in the face of the difficult circumstances.”
Unfortunately for the Tunisian government, the results of the Wahhabi influence can be directly measured by the sheer rise in young men seeking to become jihadi fighters in political conflicts in the Arab world. The Dubai-based media channel Al-Arabiya quotes a Tunisian Ministry of Interior report that 1,094 identified Tunisians are fighting with the Free Syrian Army, as well as the conflicts in Iraq, Libya, and Yemen.
Of course, this bodes ill for Tunis’s finances. A report published by the London-based pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat warns that the Tunisian economy will face severe setbacks if continued instability ensues.
“The government faces an enormous amount of risk on all fronts,” the report states. “A politically or religiously-motivated terrorist attack could shut down the country’s tourism sector. It could also cause the government to install a new secular-leaning political dictatorship.”
Iranian presidential elections remain a soap opera
Controversy continues to build in Iran over the banning of moderate former president Hashemi Rafsanjani from participating in the upcoming presidential elections. Rafsanjani did not make the cut due to his “soap opera-like” conflict with Ayatollah Khamenei, A-Sharq Al-Awsat reports.
The relationship between Khamenei and Rafsanjani has been severely strained since the latter strongly criticized the government crackdown on protesters following the country’s last presidential elections in 2009. Rafsanjani is known as a political moderate who believes in liberalizing the Iranian economy and restoring relations with the United States.
Iran’s presidential candidates are vetted by an extremely powerful body of six jurists and six clergymen known as the Guardian Council. The controversy over Rafsanjani’s disqualification stems from his prior experience as president and has irked even the descendants of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Revolution.
“Unfortunately I see that the Guardian Council has blocked Rafsanjani from the presidency,” writes Zahva Mostafavi, the daughter of the late Khomeini, in a statement published in Al-Arabiya. “This act has no meaning other than to disregard of the enthusiasm and interest of the people toward the system and the elections.”