The Islamists, who are organised mainly inside the now-ruling party Ennahda, started out close to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
The government used violence against all the people, but it was obscene with the Islamists. They were seen as a threat.
The leader of Ennahda came to London in exile and said he is moving towards a model of a Muslim leadership running a secular state.
This is not completely true—but the party wants to portray itself in this way.
One recent headline in a Tunisian newspaper asked, “Is Ennahda the first secular Islamist movement?”
It’s an interesting question. Is this just a tactical manoeuvre, or a change of heart? If it is tactical, how long will it last?
People were concerned that Ennahda would overturn laws in Tunisia that favour women’s rights.
These include laws that ban polygamy and grant rights to divorce.
But under pressure Ennahda has now pledged to enshrine these laws in the constitution, making them untouchable.
Ennahda has had to build a coalition with two other parties.
Both are from the centre politically, one slightly more left wing than the other.
There are already people opposing these parties and the two smaller parties are accused of selling out to the Islamists.
Some of my friends on the left say the left did not lose the election.
We may have only got 5 percent, they say, but Ennahda is ruling with leftist politics. I say, well, they are left for the moment.
People who voted for Ennahda think the party will help the poor and the weak.
People think that because Ennahda includes good Muslims they won’t be corrupt.
Even with non-religious Muslims or Arabs, the common belief is that someone who is religious is a good person and will be fair.
The Islamists have been banned for so long that they became almost mysterious. Now they are seen, and act, like ordinary people.
Sometimes even stupid mundane things can help to shatter the illusion.
A silly, rude joke one minister made while being recorded went viral on the internet.
People were saying, “Is this really how good Muslims behave?”
Ennahda won 35 percent of the vote in October’s elections. The fragmentation of the left, liberals and secular left also contributed to this vote.
Some 30 percent of votes went to parties that didn’t get any seats—they were lost votes.
And just 50 percent of the electorate turned out to vote.
Ennahda voters turned out, they are well-organised. So those that didn’t vote are not necessarily Ennahda supporters.
When the Islamist leader Rachid Ghannouchi came to vote he didn’t queue and went to go straight into the polling station to vote.
Some of the supporters of Ennahda welcomed him.
But many others shouted at him to get to the back, or as we say “Degage”—get the hell out!
So he had to queue for hours.
Ennahda’s vote is more conservative than Islamist. It wants to talk about Tunisian identity. Yet in the revolution, the demands were about work and a right to life.
Elements of the left have been sucked into very theoretical cultural debates with Ennahda.
So it wasn’t clear to the people that the left had clear leftist policies on things like the redistribution of wealth or against unemployment.
That was a mistake.
Ennahda’s politics are far from straightforward.
Before the elections it discussed making a ruling on not recognising Israel.
But now their representatives have reassured the US that they will recognise Israel and won’t challenge Israel or the US in the region.
What happens next will come down to the demands of the people and the revolution.