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Islamists lead in first Arab Spring vote in Tunisia
Ennahda Party described as moderate
“Islamist groups are learning to play politics in the sense of moderating their message and moving to the center,” said Philip N. Howard, a professor at the University of Washington and director of the Project on Information Technology and Political Islam.
“They start out fundamentalist but then become content to participate in party politics and move to the center, giving up some of their radical politics.”
Ricky Goldstein, who observed the elections for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, was also suspicious of Ennahda.
“During the campaign, the Islamist party was quite disciplined in saying they will protect human rights, they will protect the rights of women and maintain equality, but in fact this is an open question,” he said.
“Their discourse in some areas was vague and ambiguous.”
Still, former Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher, currently vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told The Washington Times over the phone from Tunisia that Ennahda was “saying the right things.”
“They are the most moderate Islamic party I’ve seen in the Arab world,” he said, noting that one of Ennahda’s candidates was an unveiled woman.
“They’ve told us directly that they have every intention to preserve Tunisians’ personal rights. I think they mean what they say.”
Mr. Muasher contrasted the group favorably with the Muslim Brotherhood, which he said had been “not as clear as Ennahda is on pluralism.”
Observers said Monday that any fears that Tunisia was unprepared for its democratic debut proved unfounded.
“For this being a first election and organized nine months after a revolution, I think it was orderly, conducted in a serious and professional manner,” said Scott Mastic, Middle East and North Africa director for the International Republican Institute, which sent an election-monitoring team co-chaired by former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Ben Birnbaum is a reporter covering foreign affairs for The Washington Times. Prior to joining The Times, Birnbaum worked as a reporter-researcher at the New Republic. A Boston-area native, he graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University with a degree in government and psychology. He won multiple collegiate journalism awards for his articles and columns in the Cornell Daily Sun.
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