Political Islam in Tunisia

The History of Ennahda

September 2018 9781787380332 304pp
EU Customers


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.

Drawing 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.


‘Illuminating . . . comprehensive . . . gives the most nuanced understanding of this fractured society.’ — Times Literary Supplement

‘An exceptionally well-crafted and objective history of Tunisia’s principal Islamist movement and party, Ennahda . . . This study, so well grounded in recent history, is essential reading for anyone interested in political Islam or the evolution of regimes in the Middle East and North Africa.’ — Choice

‘Fascinating . . . this first-rate book provides an objective study of the evolution of the Islamist movement in Tunisia and may serve as a model for approaching the study of political Islam in the Maghreb.’ International Affairs

‘A largely historical work that is rich in empirical detail. . . . an insightful revision and hindsight analysis of the development and evolution of Ennahda and its precursor.’ — The Middle East Journal

‘The most authentic history of Ennahda . . . this outstanding history should be read by the leaderships of all global Islamic movements. . . a remarkable study.’ — The Muslim World Book Review

‘Anne Wolf provides a comprehensive account of the evolution of the political party in both its activities and ideology, which is essential to understanding the role of political Islam in Tunisia and comprehending its enduring role elsewhere in the Middle East … an important and detailed history’— The LSE Middle East Centre Blog

‘Are Rached Ghannouchi and his Ennahda Party in Tunisia true democrats or merely tactical ones? Wolf spent four years and conducted 400 interviews trying to answer that question.’ — Foreign Affairs

Political Islam in Tunisia: The History of Ennahda emerges at a critical time. … Wolf has shed important light on the historical evolution of the party, its place within Tunisian history, and its approaches to governance.’ — The New Arab

‘One of the most interesting books this summer … As the first full history of Ennahda, the book ought to be rightfully lauded as a major contribution to literature on Tunisia, Islamist movements in general, and more broadly political Islam in the Arab world.’ — openDemocracy

‘Wolf analyses effectively . . . tension between discipline and plural expression.’ — The Middle East in London

Political Islam in Tunisia is a very readable yet informative work, and answers many of the questions … surrounding a fascinating and relevant political movement. It is likely to become a standard text on the subject, and properly so. Highly recommended.’ Middle Eastern Studies

‘An extremely useful contribution to the study of politics and religion in Tunisia … a well-researched, comprehensive history … those who seek to deepen their understanding of the historical underpinnings of one of the main players in Tunisia today would be well-served by this impressive book.’— Journal of Islamic Studies

‘Outstanding. … the most comprehensive and, more importantly, up to date and in-depth study on the nature of Islamic revivalism and failures in Tunisia.’ — Journal of North African Studies

‘Presents a coherent narrative and includes a wealth of new source material … Wolf has done painstaking research.’ — African Studies Quarterly

‘[A] deep, fascinating scholarly investigation that makes a serious contribution to existing literature on the topic … an accurate and readable scholarly investigation into one of the most compelling topics in contemporary politics in the Arab world. It is essential reading for those interested in understanding Islam in the Arab world, Islam and democracy, and Tunisia’s history and politics.’ — Bustan: The Middle East Book Review

‘Wolf’s book provides a comprehensive account of the evolution of Ennahda, by disentangling the complex process of transformation from movement to party, that began in the 1960s as a diffuse socio-cultural trend, into one of the country’s most influential political actors.’ — Libyan 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, University of Oxford

‘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.’ — Claire Spencer, Senior Research Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme and 2nd Century Initiative, Chatham House


Anne Wolf is a research fellow at Girton College, University of Cambridge. She has published widely on Tunisia, including in The Journal of North African Studies and with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She completed her PhD at the University of Oxford, St Antony's College, in 2018.

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