Political Islam in Tunisia: The History of Ennahda by Anne Wolf (review)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by
Political Islam in Tunisia: The History of Ennahda, by Anne Wolf. London: C. Hurst Publishers, 2017. 256 pages. $35.34.

Anne Wolf delivers a largely historical work that is rich in empirical detail and builds on the existing body of important Tunisian political history works by scholars such as Clement Henry, Kenneth Perkins, Emma Murphy, Lisa Anderson, Azzam Ta-mimi, and William Zartman.1

The major strength and significance of this comprehensive study of an Islamist movement in opposition, which later won power in Tunisia's first free and fair elections, is the additional detail and retrospective analysis on the history the Ennahda Movement (from al-nahda, "the revival") acquired through revealing interviews conducted in the postrevolutionary period. These interview data, collected since Ennahda's 2011 constitutional assembly election victory, are effectively juxtaposed against existing literature and analysis to provide an insightful revision and hindsight analysis of the development and evolution of Ennahda and its precursor, the Movement of Islamic Tendency (MTI, for the French Mouvement de la tendence islamique), as a political movement and a composed and balanced assessment of its behavior in government.

This book would be beneficial for studies on Islamist movements and parties, democratization, and the theoretical and practical manifestations of Islam and democracy. The specific detail Wolf provides also makes this work an effective tool for analysis of how an Islamist movement can evolve from a clandestine opposition under dictatorship with a complex, internationally spread internal structure to a ruling party as it provides insight into the leadership's rational and decision-making processes.

The primary argument this work makes is that Ennahda's journey as a political entity, albeit an Islam-inspired one, is not dissimilar from any other political group. Parties adapt and evolve as they seek to remain relevant, win elections, and influence the political process, rather than be sidelined or cease to exist. This is significant, as a great deal of academic interest has been placed on Ennahda's democratic credentials in the post-2011 era, particularly whether their intentions include a gradual [End Page 684] "Islamization" of Tunisia. This scrutiny has been unfairly levelled while "secular" parties, such as their current coalition partners, Nidaa Tounes (properly Nida' Tunis; "the call of Tunisia"), are not forced to prove their democratic intentions to the same degree. This work goes some way to allaying the exceptionalism discourse leveled against political Islam.

The author does not specifically frame this work within a theoretical perspective. This allows the extensive empirical research to be presented, facilitating its applicability to a range of further studies.

This book effectively combines a range of works in English and French languages, archival documents, and original interviews with important figures. Access to Shaykh Rached Ghannouchi, Ennahda's spiritual leader, and other founding members (Habib Ellouze, Hmida Ennaifer) was of utmost importance for this research. The Ennahda perspective is effectively balanced with the testimony of major former regime politicians, such as Mohamed Ghannouchi (no relation to Rachid). However, the mapping of important individuals in the organization and the range of primary interviews conducted by the author provide a personal feel to the ethnographic research, as the reader is given real insight and is able to hear their stories and understand their perspectives.

Chapter 2 provides an insightful comparison with the Muslim Brotherhood that avoids simplistic analysis of two often-likened Islamist movements/parties, demonstrating that the two have taken different trajectories since the 1970s and have little in common. Tracing their formation from the Islamic Group (al-Jama'a al-Islamiyya) to the MTI, Wolf shows how Ennahda points to the specific characteristics and realities of Tunisia, in addition to Rached Ghannouchi's intellectual separation from Brotherhood scholars, as factors influential to shaping their perspectives and approaches.

From seeking to overthrow Habib Bourguiba to playing (and losing) Zine El 'Abidine Ben 'Ali's rigged political game, Chapter 3 sheds light on the emergence of progressive and conservative (dogmatic) factions, debates from jail cells, and their ideational and tactical disagreements regarding how to operate the movement was known to the regime. Frustrated with regime restrictions and unfulfilled promises, the MTI capitalized on opportunity structures of economic recession...


pdf