The election of the so-called ‘moderate Islamist’ party, Ennahda, to the head seat of the government, has put Tunisia at the center of the discussion on the rise of Islamist post-Arab Spring. Media coverage has focused primarily on the alleged ‘inevitable’ imposition of the headscarf on all women and the possibility of great setbacks to the gains made by Tunisian women.
There has been little, if any, actual engagement with the evolving positions and campaigns of the party, as substantial or superficial as they may be, and even less engagement with the history of Islamic feminist movements in Tunisia (with the exception of a handful). In effect, much of the media engagement with the victory of an Islamist party in Tunisia has focused on a category of women’s rights as defined within the terms of secularism à la French laïcité, often at the expense of ‘visibly’ Muslim women (and some men). Unsurprisingly, this is part and parcel of the general approach taken to the role of Islam in the regional upheavals.
Yet, as previously mentioned, recent political gains by Islamist parties, particularly in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, have caused concern for many both in the countries and beyond. Many, within the media and outside of it, have continued spouting the long-standing trope of what democracy could possibly mean for the Arab world: an anti-Western Islamist takeover leading to theocratic oppressive regimes.
The election of the Ennahda party in Tunisia, the announcement of Shari’ah law as the main source of law for Libya by the National Transitional Council’s leader, and the possibility of a Muslim Brotherhood victory in Egypt have raised considerable eyebrows as to what this could mean, in particular, for Muslim women in these states. While the Muslim Brotherhood victory in Egypt remains to be seen, as does the form Libya’s Shari’ah will take, Tunisia’s newly elected ‘Islamist’ government has garnered much attention, given the country’s long-standing pride in its advancements for women’s rights.