The Complex Field of Islamism in Tunisia and the Transformation of Ennahda

By Francesco Cavatorta
Submitted to Session P2975 (The Transformation of Political Islam, 2012 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Much of the focus of the discussions about Tunisian Islamism has been on Ennahda, the ‘Renaissance’ party led by Rachid Ghannouchi. As the leading Tunisian Islamist party Ennahda has a long history in the country, and after the return of its leaders from exile to rapturous receptions, the party is playing a significant role in the construction of a new political system following its electoral victory in October 2011. The focus on Ennahda and Rachid Gannouchi is certainly legitimate because it represents the most popular political force in the country, but, as this paper will illustrate, attention should not be paid exclusively to Ennahda and Ghannouchi for two reasons. First, there are other Islamist formations that have emerged in the country since the democratic transition with some of them becoming increasingly relevant in the public debate despite their relative small size. Second, Ennahda itself is not the party of Ghannouchi exclusively and different factions are contained within it. This paper, building on field-work carried out in the country since 2008, offers an explanation for the transformation of Ennahda into a catch-all party with different and competing factions and provides some insights related to the emergence of alternative Islamist formations to Ennahda.