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Istituto per i Beni Culturali Emilia-Romagna

Memoria e Ricerca

From Cross-culturality to Islamism? The case of Tunisia

di Leila El Houssi
in Memoria e Ricerca n.s. 43 (2013), p. 85

Characterized by strong cross-culturalism, thanks to a social stratification and cultural dynamism that provided fertile terrain for modernization, Tunisia underwent a process of “secularization from above” promoted by Tunisia’s President Bourguiba following the country’s independence from France in 1956. Nevertheless, this secularism succeeded in maintaining a respect for Islam allowing Tunisia to be identified as an Islamically secular nation, differentiating itself from other Arab countries. With Ben Ali’s rise to power, the new government made every effort to be viewed as a bastion of secularism by the Western world. At the same time, the authoritative regime sought to suppress opposing forces, which had found support in many sections of society rediscovering religious elements as a tool of resistance. These elements, however, were not seen in the revolt against Ben Ali’s regime in January 2011 but rather surfaced later in the elections held in October 2011 with the victory of the Islamic Party Ennahda. After more than 50 years as a secular nation, Ennahda seems to be moving the country along a very different path than the one set by Bourguiba. One wonders whether Tunisia will continue to be Islamically secular or if the end result will be a country where Islam prevails over secularism. Keywords: Tunisia, Islam, secularism, insurrection, Ennahda, Arab spring