can he say the same thing in Tunisia?

can he say the same thing in Tunisia?

A scene which deeply marked the Tunisian population: on March 7, 2012, at the University of Manouba then occupied by Salafists for more than three months, one of them tore down the Tunisian flag to replace it with their standard black. Ulcerated, a student who was waiting behind the closed gates then calls out to the young fundamentalist: “The flag is sacred. » The latter refuses to answer, because she is not veiled. Climbing the wall, she faces the man who violently pushes her away, while other students remove the black flag in the middle of the fight.

A story which recalls the words of the imam of Bagnols-sur-Cèze, Mahjoub Mahjoubi, describing the ” tricolour flag “ of “satanic” and without “no value with Allah”, and also accused of discriminatory words against women. Expelled from France for Tunisia, his country of origin, could he make similar comments there? What Islam will he face in Tunisia?

The decline of the Muslim Brotherhood

The flag scene dates from the period during which the Muslim Brotherhood was in power, following the “Arab Spring” of 2011 of which Tunisia was the cradle. At the time there was total freedom of preaching – with the presence of numerous preachers from Gulf countries – and the radical ideas spread by the Muslim Brotherhood spread. Tunisia is then the world’s leading exporter of jihadists on the Syrian ground.

Since then, the context has changed a lot, as Sarah Ben Néfissa and Pierre Vermeren analyze in The Muslim Brotherhood put to the test of power (1). Already at the time of the Muslim Brotherhood, the heroic gesture of the young student showed the resilience of a “Tunisian nationalism very linked to Bourguibian modernization, particularly concerning women’s rights”, according to the political scientist. In ten years, the population has become aware of the danger posed by Islamism, after the shock of the jihadist attacks which struck the country in 2015. The police have completed the resumption of control of the situation the day after the coup State visit of President Kaïs Saïed in 2021.

Centralized and controlled preaching

For Pierre Vermeren, it would be inconceivable today in Tunisia to make comments like those of Imam Mahjoubi, which belong to the thought pattern of the Muslim Brotherhood. “On the one hand, sermons are centralized and controlled; on the other hand, in substance, such an attack against the national flag constitutes a sacrilege against the State, as everywhere else in the Maghreb. »

According to him, the trend in Tunisia is towards a return to the situation before the 2011 revolution, at the time of President Ben Ali. The organization of an official Islam is similar to what exists in Morocco, where Islam is organized according to a pyramidal order with the Commander of the Faithful at its head, that is to say the king, or in Algeria, where the Ministry of Religious Affairs writes the sermons that are read in mosques. “Despite differences – notably a weakened state in Tunisia – the result is the same: a central Islamic authority,” he summarizes. For example, the authorities blocked unofficially organized departures for jihad.

“While the Muslim Brotherhood still has activists and some executives, its influence on society and politics has greatly diminished. In power, they have made financial progress, but their credibility has declined significantly because of their failure to get Tunisia out of its slump and the weakening of state institutions. The Muslim Brotherhood made ideology and neglected material realitiesconcludes the historian. Their religious reform project is not what the population expected. »

(1) The Muslim Brotherhood put to the test of power. Egypt, Tunisia (2011-2021), Odile Jacob, coll. “History”, 288 p., €24.90.

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