Manifesto of Tunisian Intellectuals

Manifesto of Tunisian Intellectuals

The Future of Democracy in Tunisia


The horizon of hope that the Tunisian revolution revealed is now growing dark. The spirit of freedom that animated it is undergoing serious attacks every day, attacks that are establishing a climate of intimidation and violence. Six months after the election of the Constituent Assembly, Tunisia’s situation gives rise to grave anxieties.
The signers of the present manifesto believe it their duty to alert their fellow citizens to the danger looming above them. We do not think the present threats are part of the difficulties that go along with every democratic transition.

We attribute the menace to deliberate violations of the very principles of the newborn democracy. These attacks come from the Ennahda Party and from the government born from it. The extremist movement called “Salafist” is used by Ennahda as part of its strategy for conquest. We had hoped that the transformations that this Islamist party declared it had undergone were real. Many Tunisians wagered that this movement could be the torchbearer of a democratic ideal inspired by Islam.
Its speeches and actions, however, demonstrate the opposite. A hegemonic will aims to seize total power. Islamist ideology moves to impose its dogmatic order on Tunisian society As soon as the election results of October 2011 became known, even though the majority obtained by the Ennahda Party was not absolute, its leaders thought they were invested with limitless power. So we witnessed the shocking proclamation of the beginning of the reign of the 6th Caliphate, which signifies the abolition of the Tunisian State and of the Republic. Its announcement is not by chance. It is the expression of an ancient plan that Islamists have never given up. Since then, many deeds and declarations have confirmed it. Only the determined rejection by Tunisian society forced Ennahda each time to step back, temporize, and defer the completion of its plan.

Whereas Sharia as source of law was absent from the electoral campaign of this party, Tunisians have for many months lived under the threat of its being inserted into the Constitution. Such an introduction would have grave consequences for the Code of Personal Status, which is the Tunisians’ civil constitution. Thus the equality of women and men would be called into question, along with nondiscrimination based on religious belief.
Once again, society’s resistance forced Ennahda to back down. But we know that the withdrawal of its plan is only a tactical one. Islamist leaders do not give up. Weren’t they planning the creation in the Constitution of a Superior Council of the Ifta [the promulgator of fatwas], whose function would have been to examine the validity of laws from the point of view of religious law? Its institution would have given it precedence over legislative and legal authorities and over the Constitutional Council.

Another strategy is already in place—one that seeks to introduce religious law in case by case. That is the meaning of the statements by government ministers and members of parliament dealing with family rights, such as the abolition of child adoption, or inducements to bypass civil marriage by having recourse to customary marriage (‘orf) which is forbidden by republican law because it makes the situation of women more precarious and actually legalizes polygamy.
The exhortation by one of the founders of Ennahda, in the midst of parliamentary session, to “kill, crucify, amputate” protesters, referring to corporal punishment (hudûd), illustrates the reactionary tendency of this movement. We see this also in the invocation of moral order (hisba). The Minister of the Interior granted his approval to an association whose declared aim is to establish a morals police. This would take upon itself the right to intervene in the citizen’s private life, and to annul the autonomy of a subject.
With all such arrangements a legal-religious order would be established antagonistic to that of the State. Behind these initiatives is revealed the aim of annihilating the historic process of modernization that Tunisia has experienced since the nineteenth century. The present leaders are doing their utmost to dismantle the emancipating principles that transformed the country so fully that it was able to bring about  the revolution of January 2011. In fact, the Tunisian revolution is not limited to the uprising against the dictatorship of Ben Ali and of the single-party system. It is part of the logical series of basic political reforms set in motion by numerous figures of the Enlightenment.

Ennahda’s actions show the features of a counter-reformation that intends to strip us of those acquisitions by bringing an end to the distinctive identity of Tunisia in the Arab world. This counterreformation, veiled by an ambiguous agenda, is appearing today in events. Ennahda’s temporary access to power leads it to believe it is in a position to reattach Tunisia to the realm of Salafist Islam. Faith and norm, religion and law are confused, to the detriment of the civil State. All of Tunisia’s contemporary history affirms the implementation of their separation.
Contemporary Tunisian society results from the process of emancipation that has lasted for at least a century and a half, if we take as a reference-point the Fundamental Pact of 1857 and the drawing up in 1861 of the very first constitution in the Arab world. The resistance Tunisians are now giving to Ennahda’s undertakings is growing stronger every day via public demonstrations, social networks, and institutions.

Over the past several months, Ennahda has undertaken a generalized offensive against the places and figures of modernity. Hence the attacks on the university by inflamed fanatics, the verbal and physical violence against teachers, journalists, and media headquarters. The desire to control information is manifested through the organization of freedom-destroying trials and through threats to privatize public radio and television which the present leaders cannot manage to control. The General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) has undergone contemptible harassment. Aggression against intellectuals, artists, university professors, and political leaders has increased. Calls to murder are rising up from mosques now transformed into places of sedition and political-religious activism.

Violations of the integrity of institutions and individuals do not lead to police intervention: the police observe the violent acts but do nothing about them, and no legal sanctions ensue. Quite the contrary: the media are blamed, like the television network Nessma, or the newspaper Tounsia. Freedom of the press is thus likened to a crime that affronts the sacred, or harms good morality. A Salafist activist, however, who defiled the national flag, benefits from the most lenient treatment.
It is clear that Ennahda, which maintains a monopoly on all government ministers, is arranging the failure of the State, with the aim of creating a climate of insecurity to intimidate whoever opposes its hegemonic aims. But mobilization against these policies has never wavered. Citizens have proven themselves inventive in their democratic vigilance. Independently and spontaneously, they have met the challenge every time. There were many of them, during the demonstrations of March 20, April 9, and May 1st, ready to assert their rejection of the reactionary government and their attachment to freedom.

They yearn to pursue an historic process guided by a democratic, fair, peaceful rationalism, where reconstructions of identity take their inspiration from freedom. Many months of exercising power have demonstrated the government’s inability to restore social peace and public security, as well as its failure to stimulate domestic and foreign investment. The recent downgrading of Tunisia’s sovereign credit ratings bears witness to this inability and testifies to the gravity
of the situation. Democratic principles are reduced to an arithmetic of the majority, which authorizes it to subject the entire society to its own vision. The privileging of religion over politics is only too obvious.

Similarly, a discourse of ethnic and religious identity is invading the country. This propagation of fanaticism is inflamed by the most retrograde and hate-filled imams from the Middle East, who are welcomed as gurus. In the eyes of Ennahda, Tunisian citizenship is secondary to this exalted identity.
This is what is going on in the attempt to take over the great mosque of Tunis, Al-Zaytuna, to make it conform to Wahhabite ideology. A bastion of tradition, Al-Zaytuna belongs to the nation’s heritage. No one may declare himself entitled to use it for his own ends and divert it from its moderate calling.

It is not surprising that the present authorities are showing so little enthusiasm for protecting the nation’s symbols. It is the citizens themselves who intervene to defend respect for national emblems in the street and on public monuments. An instance of this is the female student at Manouba University defending the Tunisian flag against the banner of Salafism, in front of impassive policemen. We can also observe the passive complicity of these same authorities with the worrisome upsurge in Salafist violence.

Another source of anxiety is the allies of Ennahda, especially the provisional presidents of the Republic and of the Constituent Assembly. Their adherence to the democratic camp led us to expect that they would perform the critical function of separating church and state, in order to moderate and amend Ennahda’s hegemonic will. But their exercise of this function is weakening. Suspicions are increasing, when after the violence of April 9 against peaceful demonstrators, the temporary President of the Republic turned his back on both victims and aggressors. Are the two democratic presidents still alert allies of the Islamists, or have they become mere impotent auxiliaries?

We cannot think without fear about the future of the democracy, when we see the Ennahda government have recourse to incompetent followers to fill high offices in public administration. These are replacing senior civil servants of the State, who have been dismissed despite their qualifications and their integrity. Not distinguishing between the State and the government, the administration’s autonomy is negated.

The desire for domination is shown in the case of the electoral authority, since its compositions hould, according to them, mirror the makeup of the National Constituent Assembly. How can the neutrality necessary for an electoral commission be assured if the body that organizes them is under the control of the majority party? Procrastinations about the urgency of separating the constituent powers of the State, and guaranteeing the independence of the courts and the media, recall the cunning machinations of the former regime.

The vagueness about the date of the next election is an additional source of worry. Whatever the case, according to the decree that called for those elected to the Constituent Assembly to sit for a year, this Assembly, as well as the government formed by it, will be as of October 23, 2012 past the legal framework that made them possible. Absolute legitimacy does not exist in a law-abiding State. Elections do not grant exercise of power without set terms fixed in advance. Stalling by the Islamist majority will not hide the rupture of the political contract. It will engender a loss of confidence and an increase of tension in the country.

This perception, which rests on facts, words, and actions, is all the more distressing since the prospect of a transfer of power or a balance of forces seems uncertain. This uncertainty thwarts the political demands of the Tunisians.

It stems from the inability of the republican parties to enact the expected transfer of power. The scattered nature of the democratic parties can only facilitate Ennahda’s hegemonic strategy. For now, it leaves all initiative to it. Those involved in politics know this, but narcissism and the clash of egos impede their actions. The vitality of civil society, especially as expressed through the formidable capacity of activists in the blogosphere and in organizations, needs to be expressed by powerful parties. The emergence of a new republican alliance would force Ennahda to revise its strategy. Such a redeployment of the balance of power would revive, within the Islamist movement, a buoyant and authentic desire to adapt one’s faith to the conditions of a modern democracy, and not the other way around. These parties and the many independent candidates cannot be forgiven for having during the last elections compromised the chances of an outcome in harmony with the political fragility of the country. They will be even less forgivable during the next elections. The crumbling of republican parties is squandering the hopes born from the revolution.

Tunis, June 1, 2012

(Translated by Charlotte Mandell)



Héla Abdeljaoued, médecin

Lotfi Aïssa, universitaire

Noureddine Ali, universitaire

Mohamed Aloulou, médecin

Azyz Amami, cybernaute

Sami Aouadi, universitaire et syndicaliste


Jelila Baccar, auteur, comédienne

Anissa Barrak, journaliste

Aicha Ben Abed, archéologue

Moncef Ben Abdejallil, universitaire


Fethi Belhaj Yahia, écrivain

Souhair BelHassen, militante des droits humains

Yagoutha Belgacem, directrice artistique

Rabâa Ben Achour-Abdelkéfi, universitaire

Kmar Bendana, universitaire

Nedra Ben Smaïl, psychanalyste


Meriem Bouderbala, artiste.


Tahar Bekri, poète

Emna Ben Miled, universitaire

Raja Benslama, universitaire

Fethi Benslama, universitaire

Sophie Bessis, historienne,


Mounira Chapoutot-Remadi, universitaire

Jean Mohamed Mehdi Chapoutot, expert

Abdelmajid Charfi, universitaire

Faouzia Farida Charfi, universitaire

Khédija Chérif, Universitaire


Naceureddine Elafrite : Directeur de journaux


Chérif Ferjani, universitaire


Jallel Gastelli, photographe, artiste plasticien

Samy Ghorbal, journaliste et écrivain

Abdelatif Ghorbal, militant politique

Raoudha Guemara, universitaire

Tahar Ben Guiza, universitaire


Selma Hajri, médecin

Montassar Hamli, universitaire

Salem Hamza, psychiatre


Fadhel Jaibi, auteur, metteur en scène

Fadhel Jaziri, cinéaste

Taoufik Jébali, auteur, metteur en scène

Monia Ben Jemia, universitaire

Sihem Jguirim Keller, psychanalyste

Nabiha Jerad, universitaire


Habib Kazdaghli, universitaire


Slim Laghmani, universitaire

Feryel Lakhdar, plasticienne

Latifa Lakhdar, universitaire

Dalenda Largueche, universitaire

Abdelhamid Larguèche, universitaire

Béchir Larabi, médecin


Gérard Maarek, économiste urbaniste

Insaf Machta, universitaire

Emel Mathlouthi, Chanteuse


Abdelwahab Meddeb, écrivain universitaire

Hind Meddeb, journaliste


Ali Mezghani, universitaire

Kalthoum Mezoui Doraï, universitaire

Imed Melliti, universitaire

Abdelwahed Mokni, écrivain, universitaire

Mounira Nessah, psychologue

Néjia Ourriemmi, universitaire


Emna Rmili, universitaire

Hamadi Redissi, universitaire


Hammadi Sammoud, professeur universitaire

Neila Sellini, professeur universitaire

Mohamed Sghaïr Oueld Ahmed, poète


Ali Thabet, metteur en scène chorégraphe

Hédi Thabet, metteur en scène chorégraphe


Saadeddine Zmerli, médecin, président du Comité National d’Ethique Médicale

Nadia Zouiten, interprète



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