No veil for Ennahda leader
Resetdoc meets Souad Abderrahim, Ennahda's leading representative 25 October 2011

Tunisia is a country with a strong secular identity, but it is equally true that, since the fall of Ben Ali and the annulment of the constitution, practicing Muslim Tunisians have acquired greater space and visibility.

Ennahda is without a doubt the symbol for these pious Tunisians, even though Ennahda’s leading candidate in the Tunis 2 constituency (perhaps the most important one) does not wear a veil. Outside the party headquarters in the Montplaisir district, crowded with the national and international press, Souad Abderrahim offers interviews and smiles. With her blue suit, sunglasses and a smile for the TV and newspaper cameras, she even embodies a certain glamour.

She seems at ease, obviously she has practiced during the last few days of the election campaign, talking to people, making media appearances and charging up the crowds at the last rally held at the Ben Arus stadium, a working-class district in Tunis where hundreds of veiled and non-veiled women turned up to applaud her. Souad briefly answers questions that are ultimately all addressed at the same issue. What role will women play if Ennahda wins the elections? Victory is now a certainty, and the only element unknown is by what margin. And the answer is always the same, “Our aim is the freedom of all women. The veil is a religious and a personal choice.”

“Ennahda is a modern political party,” she continues, “inspired by Islam’s best values that are then applied to everyday life. People should not fear us, because our party is ready to work for all Tunisians.” She may well have a role to play in the future government, but it is too soon to be sure. What is certain, she says, is that, “If the party considers me worthy, I will accept the position offered to me. If the coalition government asks me, and if political results allow it, then why not? Should this not happen, the results achieved in these days remain a historic moment for our country.”

In regard to the other political parties that took part in Sunday’s elections, the future of the Renaissance Party will lie in its political alliances.

According to Souad, “the first objective after the results are published will be to a form a coalition government including all parties, because a single party is characteristic of dictatorships.”

Ennahda’s leading candidate will not go into detail as far as future alliances are concerned. “We do not yet know which parties we will form an alliance with, but it is clear that there will be a coalition, and our Constituent Assembly will be a mosaic. Although we achieved the best result, we will respect other political parties and expect them to do the same.”

Well then why is Ennahda so frightening? Souad Abderrhaim explains the phenomenon as follows. “Tunisia is emerging from a dictatorship, but now the people need to understand that our party wishes to represent everyone.” And what about fears that civil rights will not be respected? “We do not question the status of women and the role they played in the revolution. Tunisian women are well educated, brilliant, well read. I myself am committed, as a person and not just as a politician, to achieving the objectives of women, increasing their involvement in institutions, in political and economic life, and in public life in general.”

Translated by Francesca Simmons




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