x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Confrontation in Tunisia possible but not inevitable

Arabic newspapers discuss ongoing conflict between the ruling Islamist movement and the participating civil movement. Other topics include arming the Syrian rebels and classical Arabic.

As tolerance regresses in Tunisia, the possibility of a confrontation looms but isn't inevitable

The situation in Tunisia, the cradle of Arab revolutions, isn't ideal, but it is typical, said the columnist Satei Noureddine in the Lebanese daily Assafir.

The ongoing conflict between the ruling Islamist movement and the participating civil movement is heating up and turning into a traditional confrontation between an Islamic power that was brought about by the revolution and a liberal opposition that was brought about by mere coincidence.

"No Arab country will be safe from this form of struggle. Tunisia is the first and foremost laboratory for it because its Islamic experience is unique and its civic state is pioneering."

However, these two exceptional phenomena are now permeated by extremist influences that are pulling them into direct confrontation that could possibly escalate into an armed conflict despite the Tunisian society's immunity to armament and the use of force to settle differences.

As soon as the Ennahda Islamist movement took over the executive power in Tunisia, it morphed into an oppressive authority that clamps down on protests and restricts freedoms. The once moderate Islamists are seeing themselves shifting towards Salafist movements that came to the surface in Tunisia after the revolution to experience political openness and challenge the Islamists and their programmes.

The issues at hand in Tunisia today are many, from President Moncef Marzouki's call for a legislation that incriminates the practice of takfir, to the controversy that erupted with the arrival of the Egyptian Salafi Wajdi Ghoneim who toured the country and made fiery speeches on religion, politics, authority and women. These reveal a festering turmoil that would surely lead to the collapse of the present political equation that joins Islamists, liberals and leftists together.

"Regardless of the wishes of its clerics and leaders, the ruling Ennahda movement can't reproduce a new dictatorship in a newly liberated society. However, the Salafi challenge could become a pretext for more radicalism in containing the Tunisian wild political life," the writer added. "On the other end of the spectrum, liberal radicalism is no less offensive with its calls for lewdness out of pure spite."

Polarisation is growing more intense between these different ideologies that have just started experiencing absolute political and social freedoms. Gradually, the possibility of reaching a middle ground between the conflicting sides narrows. It is a situation that threatens to break down the power equation that was drafted in haste based on vengeful motives rather than a serious interest in the future.

"The situation in Tunisia isn't ideal or final, but it is certainly far better than the dictatorship that churned out these flaws, both Islamic and civil," the writer concluded.

Did Mexican dramas save classical Arabic?

The Arabic language, as versatile and prolific as it is, has one drawback: it is mostly used in its colloquial form while its classical form is restricted to official and academic use.

In a comment, the Emirati writer Ali Obaid contributed an opinion article in the Dubai-based newspaper Al Bayan entitled Nostalgia for Mexican.

In the last 20 years, classical Arabic found its way back to almost every Arab household through the widely successful Mexican novellas that, through skilful dubbing, saw their charming Latin stars speaking in the pristine mother tongue of Arabs.

So popular were these soaps that they became the stuff of anecdotes in Arab countries. One such anecdote tells of a man who, upon hearing his son speaking classical Arabic, scolded him and warned him not to speak Mexican-Spanish anymore.

These series, along with other animated cartoon shows also dubbed into classical Arabic, had a strong influence on audiences. But in recent years, with the invasion of the more popular Turkish shows, even dubbing companies shifted to local colloquial dialects that saw Turkey's stars speaking the Syrian dialect.

"As Mexican soaps are out ... Arab audiences find themselves feeling nostalgic those Mexican series that, for a short period of time, were the Arabic language's close ally, encouraging many to speak it without apprehension," he said.

Alternatives to arming Syria's rebels debated

In a recent statement, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she doesn't support arming the Syrian rebels on the pretext that Al Qaeda has declared its support for the Syrian opposition and any material backing of this opposition would mean backing terrorist organisation in Syria.

In a comment piece, the columnist Abdel Rahman Al Rashid wrote in the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al Awsat: "The Syrian regime was keen on promoting the radical groups narrative accusing the Salafis and Al Qaeda of creating turbulence."

The Syrian regime harboured Al Qaeda operatives that used its territories to access Iraq during the past seven years. Al Qaeda is Bashar Al Assad's first ally and it was no coincidence that its leader Ayman Al Zawahri came out with a statement supporting the revolution. It was a strategic ploy by the regime to terrorise the West and alienate it from the Syrian revolution. Or, Al Qaeda is indeed trying to find a niche for itself in this most popular cause in the Arab and Islamic worlds.

"The fall of the regime is only a matter of time," said the writer. "Mrs Clinton's refusal to arm the rebels is understandable, but the decision to forsake Syria will only eventually yield a country in ruins."

* Digest compiled by Racha Makarem