Political Islam in Tunisia
The History of Ennahda
A definitive political history of Tunisia’s moderate Islamist ‘Renaissance Party’.
Political Islam in Tunisia uncovers the secret history of Tunisia’s main Islamist movement, Ennahda, from its origins in the 1960s to the present. Banned until the popular uprisings of 2010-11 and the overthrow of Ben Ali’s dictatorship, Ennahda has until now been impossible to investigate. This is the first in-depth account of the movement, one of Tunisia’s most influential political actors.
Based on more than four years of field research, over 400 interviews, and access to private archives, Anne Wolf masterfully unveils the evolution of Ennahda’s ideological and strategic orientations within changing political contexts and, at times, conflicting ambitions amongst its leading cadres. She also explores the challenges to Ennahda’s quest for power from both secularists and Salafis. As the first full history of Ennahda, this book is a major contribution to the literature on Tunisia, Islamist movements, and political Islam in the Arab world. It will be indispensable reading for anyone seeking to understand the forces driving a key player in the country most hopeful of pursuing a democratic trajectory in the wake of the Arab Spring.
Anne Wolf is an associate at the University of Cambridge’s Centre for the Study of the International Relations of the Middle East and North Africa and a PhD candidate at the University of Oxford, St Antony’s College. She has published widely on Tunisia, including with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. She is an associate editor of the Journal of North African Studies.
‘Anne Wolf’s masterly book fills a serious gap in the literature: a cool-headed and rigorously researched history of Ennahda, one of the foremost political actors in shaping Tunisia’s past and future.’ — François Burgat, Senior Research Fellow at the French National Centre for Scientific Research and author of Islamism in the Shadow of Al-Qaeda
‘This outstanding study bridges the gap between the origins, ideology and evolution of Ennahda from Islamist opposition to a party in government in post-revolutionary Tunisia. Comprehensive and authoritative, Wolf’s book is also compelling reading based on years of field work and interviews with both partisans and critics of the most successful Muslim democratic party in the twenty-first century.’ — Eugene Rogan, Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History, University of Oxford
‘This is a thorough, pioneering, reflective history of Ennahda that contextualises the unique evolution of the group since its inception. It’s a solid, compelling book that is essential reading for anyone interested in the study of political Islam in the Arab world, providing a critical, fresh angle on the issue.’ — Lina Khatib, Head of the Middle East and North Africa Programme, Chatham House
‘Anne Wolf has given us a detailed and highly readable account of Ennahda that goes far beyond its current role as one of the major players in Tunisian politics. In her meticulous and well-grounded analysis of Ennahda’s origins she has succeeded in intertwining its story with that of the Tunisian state, and with the role of Islam in Tunisian society. By taking political and historical contexts seriously, she has provided us with an excellent starting point for understanding key aspects of Tunisia’s present predicament.’ — Charles Tripp, Professor of Middle East Politics, SOAS, University of London
‘Much has been written about the politics of the Ennahda movement but — until now — very little about its history. Anne Wolf’s study remedies perfectly this absence with its clear, meticulously researched narrative that sets out and explains the remarkable rise, repression and survival of what is perhaps the Arab world’s most genuinely successful and democratic Islamist movement. Reproducing key texts from the movement and drawing together existing literature supplemented with extensive interviews with supporters and leading figures of the movement, Anne Wolf has produced what will become the standard reference work on the topic.’ — Michael Willis, King Mohamed VI Fellow in Moroccan and Mediterranean Studies, St Antony’s College, Oxford University
‘Based on extensive field research, Wolf’s book details the historical development and rise of Ennahda. Timely, thorough, and thoughtful, it brilliantly highlights the evolution of its ideological worldview, goals and strategies. It also diligently captures its dilemmas in Tunisia’s post-authoritarian era. Wolf’s study is an indispensable tool to all those interested in understanding the complex trajectory of the contemporary Tunisian Islamists. It is a commendable contribution to the literature on mainstream Middle eastern Islamist movements.’ — Noureddine Jebnoun, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Centre for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS)
‘In addition to placing the movement at the heart of Tunisia’s democratic transition, Anne Wolf’s study of Ennahda — the country’s ‘Muslim Democrat’ party — has the singular virtue of showing how it is also a reflection of the country’s Islamic and Arab identity, stretching back to pre-colonial times.’ — George Joffé, Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge
‘Anne Wolf goes beyond the ideological prejudices that pertain to “islamism”; she adopts a critical and rigorous approach to the history of Ennahda and shows that “islamists”, like any other ideological activists, are prone to change and mature, draw the lessons of the past, analyse the context and at the end enter mainstream politics, contributing both to stabilisation and democratisation. A sound, timely and objective approach to a movement that is becoming both a model and a key actor for any peaceful transition towards democracy in the Arab world.’ — Olivier Roy, Professor, European University Institute and author of Jihad and Death: The Global Appeal of Islamic State
‘This study is an extremely timely corrective to characterisations of political Islamic movements as expounding essentialist ideologies divorced from their contextual roots. Wolf’s highly readable and well-researched account of Ennahda could not have been better chosen to chart the diverse influences and trajectories of a movement challenged by the contemporary exercise of political power.’ — Clare Spencer, Senior Research Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme and 2nd Century Initiative Chatham House