Iran, Tunisia and the Challenge to the Secular State

Fred Halliday


The past decade or two have not been the first occasion on which forces claiming to represent 'Islam' have adopted an assertive international stance. As every student of Mediterranean history knows, the dynamic unleashed in Arabia in the seventh century took more than a millenium to spend itself and for to-day's boundaries to be drawn: if the Arabs were expelled from Spain at the end of the fifteenth century, the Turks sought to counter-attack in the sixteenth and subjected much of the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa to their control. The siege of Malta in the mid-sixteenth century failed; that of Crete, over a century later, succeeded. Where Vittoriosa, Cospicua and Senglea held out, Chania, Rethimno and Heraklion succumbed - not least because of shorter Ottoman lines of communications. The Turks ruled Crete until 1898. Only at the end of World War I, when other empires had obtruded into the Mediterranean did the last of the Islamic empires collapse.

In this, as in so many other cases of international and confessional conflict, the past provides a reserve of symbols and fears, even if it does little to explain the resurgence of religious and ethnic identities. Both Muslims, and their non-Muslim neighbours in the Mediterranean and elsewhere, are aware of, and frequently invoke these precedents, to legitimate or discredit more recent manifestations of Islamic assertion. But the earlier expansions of Islam - in the seventh to tenth centuries AD, with the Arab conquests, and in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with the Ottomans - took place in a very different context, for two evident reasons. First the historical context was one in which the industrial and military supremacy of the west had not yet been assured. To-day the Islamic states may present a rhetorical threat to the West, and may engage in individual acts of pressure, military or economic, against it: but the strategic situation is quite different. They are incapable of mounting a concerted challenge, let alone of redrawing boundaries. In this sense, those areas of Europe once occupied by, or threatened, from the south are to a consider-[p.280] able degree insulated: the strikes and clashes now taking place at Tunisian universities, between Islamic militants and the police, find little echo in Malta, even though they are less than an hour's flying time away.

Secondly, the contemporary challenge of 'Islam' is, demagogy on both sides apart, not about inter-state relations at all, but about how these Islamic societies and states will organize themselves and what the implications of such organization for their relations with the outside world will be. The dynamic is an internal, often destructively involutionary, one, rather than a continuation, however remote, of the Arab and Ottoman conquests. As will be argued below, the more recent rise of Islamic politics in the states and popular movements of the Muslim world poses little threat to the non-Muslim world without; it is primarily a response to the perceived weakness and subjugation of the Islamic world, and is concerned with an internal regeneration. That this process is accompanied by much denunciation of the outside world and the occasional act of violence against it should not obscure the fact that the Islamic revival concerns above all the Muslim world itself. The question it poses is not, therefore, whether it threatens the outside world which, broadly speaking, it does not: but whether, in any of its variants, it can provide a solution to the problems which Muslim societies face to-day.

The late 1980s provide, in some degree, an advantageous position from which to assess the causes and consequences of the rise of what is termed Islamic fundamentalism or 'Islamism'.[1] A decade has now passed since the most spectacular success of this movement, the advent to power of Ayatollah Khomeini in February 1979 and the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and it is a full two decades since the seizure of power by another political figure claiming to be inspired by an Islamic vision, Colonel Mu'ammar al-Qaddafi in Libya. 1989 itself has not been without its own significance in the development of this trend, illustrating both the continued force of Islamism and the variety of political forms which it assumes.

To begin with the Mediterranean itself, it appears that in a number of countries movements espousing forms of Islamic identity have been active on [p.281] the political scene: in Algeria, following upon the uprising of October 1988 in which Islamic forces played a prominent part, the FLN regime has been forced to introduce major social and political reforms and to legalize the Front Islamique du Salut the opposition Islamic party, along with two other secular opponents; in Tunisia, the Islamic list won 17 per cent of the vote in the April 1989 elections and now poses itself as the main opponent of the regime; in Sudan, military officers close to the Muslim Brothers seized power in a coup in June, toppling the elected but ineffectual Government of Sadiq al-Mandi; in the occupied areas of Palestine, especially Gaza, Islamic forces, in particular HAMAS, the Islamic Resistance Movement, whilst still subordinate to the mainly secular nationalist leadership of the intifadha have been active; in Jordan, Islamic representatives won around 30 out of 80 seats in the November 1989 elections, the first relatively free consultation in over twenty years; in the Lebanon fundamentalist Shiites, organized in various strands of the hizb allah have continued to hold Western hostages and to resist a compromise political settlement in that country. Nor, however, has the influence of these trends been confined to the southern, Arab, shore of the Mediterranean. Within the ethnic upsurge of Eastern Europe, Islamic ideas have played a significant role: in Yugoslavia, there has been a strong confessional, i.e. Christian-versus-Muslim, element in the Serbian-Albanian conflict that has ravaged the Kossovo region; in the Caucasus, the remotest corner of Europe, religious- nationalist fervour has reached dangerous levels in the conflict between Azerbaijanis and Armenians, as well as between (Christian) Georgians and (Muslim) Abkhazians.

1989 has, however, been marked, above all, by the dominance of one issue that has aroused Islamic sentiment, the Salman Rushdie affair. If this has concerned the whole of the Muslim world, it has had a special impact on the Muslims of Europe, since it is here that the issue of publication and distribution of the book has been most acute. In France and Britain, in particular, where there exist substantial Islamic communities, Islamic leaders have made the issue of prohibiting The Verses a central part of their campaign for the recognition of Islam as a legitimate part of the contemporary culture of Western Europe. This campaign has served to strengthen the feeling amongst Muslim communities of their separate and antagonistic place within Western European society and has also linked these communities, more directly than previously, to the assertive policies of Islamic States. In both France and Britain this question of the Rushdie book has been interlocked with other ongoing issues of Muslim identity and integration: the right to open mosques, the wearing of Islamic clothing particularly in schools, the right to prayer at [p.282] workplaces, campaigns against racism, and immigration restrictions.[2] Earlier emphases have now given way to a pursuit of identity, community and continued distinctness.

Disaggregating 'Islam': Four Guidelines

This overview of developments in 1989 may serve to illustrate some of the features of this international trend, but also to underline the dangers of simplification with regard to it. In the light of this diversity, and of the record of the past two decades, it is possible to make some general remarks about this current and to place it in some broader perspective. Four of these are especially relevant to any assessment of the current stage of Islamic movements.[3]

1. Islamism as Politics: The terms 'revival' and 'fundamentalist' are misleading, since both refer to trends within a religion. This Islamic current involves not a revival of religious belief, but an assertion of the relevance of this belief, selectively interpreted, to politics. The Islamic movement has had a strong religious character: but it has not involved a movement of conversion, from other religions, or a return to belief by formerly Muslim communities who had abandoned their faith. Rather, it involves the assertion that, in the face of secular, modern, and European ideas, Islamic values should play a dominant role in political and social life and should define the identity of the Islamic peoples. If there is one common thread running through the multiple movements characterized as "fundamentalist" it is not anything to do with their interpretation of the Islamic "foundations", i.e. the Koran or hadith, but rather their claim to be able to determine a politics for Muslim peoples. The central concern of Islamist movements is the state, how to resist what is seen as an [p.283] alien and oppressive State, and how, through a variety of tactics, to obtain and maintain control of the State. In this perspective the rise of Islamist movements in the 1970s and 1980s bears comparison with that of other tendencies that deploy religious ideology in pursuit of other, nationalist and populist, political goals - in Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism. Given the tendency of both Muslims themselves and those who write about 'Islam' to treat it as both a unitary and unique phenomenon, it would be prudent henceforth to check any generalization about Islam against the practices of those using other, non-Islamic, religions in a similarly political manner.

2. Variants of Islamism: Once this, essentially, political interpretation becomes clear, then it is more possible to identify and explain the variety of Islamist movements and ideas. For the character of Islamist movement varies according to the political and social context in which these trends arise. Broad speaking, there are three such contexts. The first is Islamic popular revolt.[4] This is where a popular movement within an Islamic country challenges a secular State, or one that is regarded as insufficiently Islamic, for political power: this was classically the case in Iran in 1978-79, and it also applies in Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey and, in very different circumstances, Afghanistan. It involves a popular revolt against the modernizing, centralizing, State. The second form of Islamic politics is where Islam is used by a State itself to legitimate and consolidate its position. Here there exists a spectrum, from the very token invocation of Islamic identity by what are in effect secular rulers (Nasser's Egypt, Morocco, the FLN in Algeria, the Ba'th in Syria and Iraq) through to the use of Islam as a more central part of the State's authority and power. Even this category permits of no simple definition, since regimes that proclaim themselves as legitimated by Islam range across the gamut of political options: military dictatorships (Libya, Pakistan, and now Sudan); tribal oligarchies (Saudi Arabia); clerical dictatorship (Iran). Nothing could make clearer the extent to which Islamic politics is dependent on the pre-existing context and serves as the instrument of State power.

The last variant of Islamic politics is in contexts of confessional or ethnic conflict, i.e. where Islamism serves to articulate the interests and identity of groups that form part of a broader political community that is heterogeneous [p.284] on religious grounds, i.e. includes Muslims and non-Muslims, or, even where all are Muslims, includes divergent sects of Islam or different linguistic and ethnic groups. This has received less attention on the international level, but it is a major part of the picture of Islamic politics in the contemporary world. Long-established variants of this are the Lebanon and the Caucasus, and the Islamic-Coptic conflict in Egypt. But modern developments have created new contexts in which such tendencies can develop as part of conflicts within specific States. This is, after all, the context in which Islamism is spreading in Western Europe, as part of a self-definition of new communities within a secular, post-Christian, society. It is part, too, of the explanation for the role of Islamist ideas amongst the Palestinians, since they are, in effect, a subordinated part of a broader non-Muslim, in this case Israeli, society. Part of the Islamist movement in Algeria can be seen in this light, as the expression of Arab hostility to the Kabyle minority for whom the French language, and a more secular order, provide an alternative to domination by the Arab majority. The issue of Arabic within Algeria has, therefore, several layers of significance: as a cultural assertion against French, as an Islamic assertion against non-Islamic values, and as an Arab assertion against the Kabyles. The close association of the Arabic language with Islamic identity enables this campaign for Arabic to bear these multiple, ethnic-religious, meanings. To take an example from the non-Arab world, that of Malaysia: in a society divided between Muslim Malays and non-Muslim Chinese, and growing resentment by the former of the latter, Islamism serves amongst the Malays to express an ethnic and confessional interest.

3. Contingent Interpretations: This picture of the variant roles of Islam in politics can illumine the degree to which 'Islam' itself is open to differing interpretations, how the particular use made of its traditions and texts is variable, contingent on contemporary, rather more material and political concerns. In the hypostatization of doctrine this is a point that is too often obscured in discussions, by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, of the role of 'Islam' itself in these processes. The presupposition upon which much discussion of the question rests is that there exists one, unified and clear, tradition to which contemporary believers and political forces may relate. Many of the discussions that have taken place in the Islamic world have rested on this assumption, of an essential Islam. This was the case in the 1960s in the debate about whether Islam favoured capitalism or socialism. It recurred in the 1970s and 1980s in discussions of the place of women, in analysis of the proper role of the clergy in an Islamic society, in the debate on Islamic teaching on [p.285] tolerance after the Rushdie affair and so forth. These all involve an assumption that there is one "true" interpretation. Opponents of Islamist movements tend to reproduce this essentialist assumption in discussing such questions as whether Islamic societies can ever be democratic, or whether there is some special link between the "Islamic mind" and terrorism. The reality is that no such essential Islam exists: as one Iranian thinker put it, Islam is a sea in which it is possible to catch almost any fish one wants. It is, like all the great religions, a reserve of values, symbols, and ideas from which it is possible to derive a contemporary politics and social code: the answer as to why this or that interpretation was put upon Islam resides therefore, not in the religion and its texts itself, but in the contemporary needs of those articulating an Islamic politics. These needs are evident, and secular, enough: the desire to challenge or retain State power; the need to mobilize dominated, usually urban, populations for political action; the articulation of a nationalist ideology against foreign domination and those within the society associated with it; the 'need' to control women; the carrying out of social and political reforms designed to strengthen post-revolutionary States.

4. Criteria of 'Success': Once 'Islam' and 'Islamism' are disaggregated in this way, the movements that proclaim their adherence to Islam can be seen both within their own specific contexts and as part of a loose, variegated, and uncoordinated international system. Moreover, it may become easier to arrive at a yardstick for assessing the impact and success of this phenomenon. The criterion often raised after the Iranian revolution was whether or not there would be a repetition of what happened in Iran: on this criterion, the Iranian revolution has not spread and fundamentalism has been contained. But this criterion is in two major respects an inadequate one. First, it adopts too small a timescale. Revolutionaries themselves are impatient, and expect other peoples to imitate them immediately: in this sense they become disappointed just as quickly as their opponents become relieved. But in historical perspective it would seem that the timescale for assessing the international impact of revolution is not a few years but several decades: the impact of the French revolution was felt throughout the nineteenth century; it was in the late 1940s, thirty years after 1917, that the USSR enjoyed its greatest external expansion; it took Castro twenty years to secure a revolutionary ally on the Latin American mainland, in Nicaragua. In the case of the Iranian revolution, however, there is a further reason why the criterion of State power is inadequate, namely that the impact of the Islamic upheaval there has been substantial even though no other state has become an Islamic republic. It is only necessary to see the rise [p.286] in Islamist political consciousness in a range of countries to see how far the Iranian model has influenced political behaviour, or to recognize the increased interest amongst young people in Islamic clothing, Islami erature, mosque attendance, and so forth. Whether or not Islamist forces of the Iranian variety do come to power in the following years or decades, the impact of the revolution and of the broader trend with which it is associated is undeniable.

As was noted earlier, each of the three forms of Islamic interaction with politics has evident relevance to the contemporary international situation, and to the Mediterranean in particular. Thus the movements in Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, and Turkey are all variants of the first category, that of populist revolts, from below, against the State: indeed "Islam" has become the dominant idiom in which such resistance is expressed. Within this category there are also major differences - some are led by clerics, others by lay personnel; some are Sunni, others Shiite. The use of "Islam" by established regimes to promote their own legitimacy is also widespread: thus in their attempt to pre-empt Islamist revolt from below, Egyptian rulers since Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak, have presented themselves in Islamic garb. In a more militant form, Qaddafi has also done the same thing: yet Qaddafi's espousal of the Islamic cause can be seen as much as a radical extension of the Nasserite Arab nationalist use of Islam as something involving a clear primacy for Islam. His territorial claims are Arab nationalist - on a par with the Iraqi claim on part of Iran, the Syrian on part of Turkey, the belief that Eritrea and the Canary Islands are "Arab" , or occasional evocations of malta arabiyya. Qaddafi has clashed with the clerical and Islamist opposition within his own country, and is widely believed to be responsible for the death of the Lebanese Shiite leader Musa Sadr in 1978. In recent years he has taken to stressing the primary role of the Arabs within Islam and has attacked non-Arab Islamic forces, such as the Jama'at-i Islami of Pakistan and the tabligh movement prevalent amongst Muslims of Western Europe. The role of Islam in confessional conflicts, the third broad category, is evident on both sides of the Mediterranean - in Egypt and Lebanon, but also in Yugoslavia and in those Western European countries with a larger Islamic population.

The analysis that follows will focus on two of the most prominent cases of Islamist revival, those of Iran and of Tunisia. The one has been the most striking success of Islamism, with consequences that still remain to be worked through. The second represents the rise of an Islamist movement in a North African context that was, Qaddafi aside, considered until the early 1980s to be relatively immune to the appeals of political Islam.

[p.287] Islamism in power: the record of the Khomeini decade

The death of Ayatollah Khomeini on 3 June 1989 brought to an end the first decade of the Islamic Republic of Iran and provides one point from which to assess the character and consequences of Iran's revolution. There is not space here to review the revolution itself and the analytic questions it raised: suffice it to say, in line with what has been written above, that the Iranian revolution involved a mass revolution from below against an authoritarian modernizing State, and that its success was made possible by the political leadership it received from Khomeini and his associated clerics. They provided not just the organizational framework, but also the ideology with which the mobilization became possible.

Central to this ideology were three tenets, oft repeated in Khomeini's speeches and sermons. The first was the belief, supposedly "traditional" and "fundamental", but actually a novel interpretation of Islamic doctrine, according to which it was possible to have an Islamic State in the contemporary world, even in the absence (the gheiba or ation) of the Prophet's successor the Imam, and that this could be implemented through the role of the "jurisconsult" or fagih the position held by Khomeini during his lifetime. The second core ideological element was the division of the world into two categories, the oppressed or mostazafin and the oppressors or mostakbarin, two Koranic terms turned to modern, populist, usage. Khomeini appealed to the poorer, excluded, elements of society, in name of a revolutionary ideal. Third there was the appropriation in Islamic terms of what was in essence a third world nationalist appeal: against the twin Satans, of East and West, against the world-devouring (jahan-khor) forces that had long oppressed Iran. Khomeini's appeal to Muslims was not so much the offensive, aggressive, one of converting the world to Islam, the earlier meaning of jihad but rather that of defending the Islamic world against occupation and corruption from out-side. Jihad in this context acquired an inward-looking, defensive character, but one that served to divide the world clearly into the camp of the struggling oppressed third-world peoples and their enemies, the non-Islamic powers. Many aspects of the revolution were peculiar to Iran, not least the specific organizational and ideological autonomy of the clergy from State control, a feature not present in Sunni societies. But the impact of the revolution, carried out in the name of Islam and under the leadership of the clergy, had enormous impact across the Muslim world.

Khomeini's achievement was considerable - in making the revolution, in remaining in power, and not least, in ensuring a smooth transition after his [p.288] death. Two factors were important here. One was that his regime had been run by a group of clergy that had been his students years before and who constituted a loose but effective revolutionary cadre around him. It was these people who maintained sufficient unity after 3 June to ensure that Rafsanjani, already the most influential Government personality after Khomeini, was able to assume power and be elected to the new, chief executive position of president. The other factor, evident in the popular response to Khomeini's death, was the immense authority which the revolution and the Ayatollah in particular retained within the population, despite all the difficulties of the post-revolutionary period. The revolution and eight-year war with Iraq had brought immense privations to Iran, and sections of the population had been alienated by repression. But there can be no doubt that, ten years after Khomeini came to power, the Islamic Republic enjoys considerable legitimacy within Iran: it was this support that made it more possible for Khomeini's associates to organize a smooth transition.

Khomeini's last years were, however, marked by great difficulties for Iran: these followed, to a considerable extent, from uncertainty within the ideology of the revolution itself. The first uncertainty was that of the role of the State in the new post-revolutionary situation, and the relationship between Government and Islam itself. In the early period of the Islamic Republic, greatest emphasis was laid on the question of how Islamic thinking could influence the policy of the State: thus the constitution was rewritten to include the concept of the velayat-i fagih the vice-regency of the jurisconsult; economic policy was altered to preclude the taking or granting of interest-bearing loans; education was transformed to reflect Islamic thinking, as was the law; women were forced to wear Islamic clothing. However, this Islamization of the State went together with another debate, the degree to which the precepts of Islam could act as a constraint upon the actions of Government. This was an argument put forward in the first instance by opponents of the Khomeini regime, who argued for an Islamic limitation of the new republican regime; but it soon came to be prevalent within the State itself, in the argument on such issues as Government control of trade and finance, and intervention in the economy in the name of planning. Those within the Government who adopted a more conservative attitude to economic policy, opposing State intervention, used this Islamic argument to block reform measures.

It was in this context that Khomeini, in January 1988, made one of his most important political pronouncements, in the form of a letter to the then president Khamene'i. Khamene'i had apparently argued that the Government could exercise power only within the bounds of divine statutes. But Khomeini [p.289] disagreed, stating that Government was "a supreme vice-regency bestowed by God upon the Holy Prophet and that it is among the most important of divine laws and has priority over all peripheral divine orders". He itemised a set of issues on which, if his view was not valid, the government would not be able to take action:[5]

Conscription, compulsory despatch to the fronts, prevention of the entry or exodus of any commodity, the ban on hoarding except in two or three cases, customs duty, taxes, prevention of profiteering, price-fixing, prevention of the distribution of narcotics, ban on addiction of any kind except in the case of alcoholic drinks, the carrying of all kinds of weapons.

Khomeini continued:

I should state that the government which is part of the absolute vice-regency of the Prophet of God is one of the primary injunctions of Islam and has priority over all other secondary injunctions, even prayers, fasting, and hajj. The ruler is authorised to demolish a mosque or a house which is in the path of a road and to compensate the owner for his house. The ruler can close down mosques if needs be, or can even demolish a mosque which is a source of harm...The government is empowered to unilaterally revoke any Shari'ah (Islamic law) agreements which it has concluded with the people when those agreements are contrary to the interest of the country or to Islam. It can also prevent any devotional or non-devotional affair if it is opposed to the interests of Islam and for long as it is so.

This explicit statement was not just a ligitimation of what already existed in Iran, namely a clerical dictatorship. The concept of the "absolute vice-regency" (velayat-i ntutlaq) was a major new formulation of Islamist politics in the context where an Islamic state had already been created. Yet like all such legitimations, such as the dictatorship of the proletariat, it contained its contradiction: for the legitimation of the State and of the fagih lay in its fidelity to Islamic perceptions, and yet this authority, derived from Islam, was now [p.290] being used to justify overriding whatever Islam enjoined. The key to this new legitimation was given by the concept, invoked in the quotation above of maslahat or "interest" of the Muslim people: it was in the name of this interest, which the faqih alone could identify, that the specific injunctions of Islam could be overridden. Conservative opposition had been based in the Council of Guardians, a clerical body designed to see whether parliamentary decisions contradicted Islamic precepts: Khomeini broke this deadlock by creating a new committee, for the "Discernment of the Interest of the Islamic Order" (Tashkhis-i Maslahat-i Nizam-i Islami), which now had overall power. Never were the underlying political priorities of Islamism clearer: the tactical concern of Khomeini was to use the concept of "interest" and of the absolute authority of the jurisconsult to override conservative opposition within the regime; the overall goal was to invert Islamic authority so as to remove any Islamic restrictions, particularly with regard to property, from the actions of the state.

A similar political determination could be seen in the manner in which Khomeini handled another difficult area of State policy, namely the export of revolution. In common with all revolutions, that of Iran presented itself as a model for other peoples and sought to promote this process elsewhere. The concept "export of revolution", sudur-i ingilab was commonly used by Iranian officials: it included the conventional means of exporting political radicalism - arms, financial support, training, international congresses, pro da, radio programmes. Islamic tradition also provided specific elements to this process: thus at the ideological level, Khomeini could claim that the Islamic peoples were all one, and that in Islam there were no frontiers. In organizational terms, the already established links between different religious communities across the Muslim world provided a network for building revolutionary links. Until the clashes of 1987 when around 400 Iranians were killed, the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, acted as a means for propagating Iran's revolutionary ideas.[6]

The most important component of this policy was the attempt to export Islamic revolution to Iraq: Iran had called for this before the Iraqi invasion of [p.291] September 1980, and this became Khomeini's rationale for continuing the war after July 1982 when the Iraqis were driven out of Iranian territory. In the end, of course, it failed: the Iraqi population did not rise up, and the regime did not collapse. In August 1988 Iran was forced to accept a ceasefire. In his speech calling for a ceasefire, Khomeini stated that, for him, this was worse than drinking poison: but political and strategic necessity forced him to do it. This enormous setback in the promotion of revolution abroad did not, how-ever, lead to an acceptance that promotion of Islamic radicalism abroad was impossible. Iran continued to play a role in arming and guiding Shiite guerillas in two countries, Lebanon and Afghanistan, and in the bitter aftermath of the war it maintained a steady criticism of Saudi Arabia, whose corrupt rulers it saw as enemies of Islam.

The proclamation of Iran's continued role as leader of the oppressed across the world was important not just for external reasons, promoting the image and prestige of Iran, but also internally, as a means of sustaining the morale of the population and preventing "liberalism", a spirit of compromise or accommodation with the outside world, from coming to the fore. After the August 1988 ceasefire, Khomeini felt there was a danger that the Iranian revolution would falter and that it would lose its revolutionary orientation. It was in this context that he reasserted his view that Iran should remain independent of international economic forces, even at the cost of austerity. But he also used an issue that gave him the opportunity to provoke a major crisis with the non-Islamic world and at the same time to present Iran as the leader of the Islamic cause, namely the Salman Rushdie affair. Iran's position on this, calling for the death of the author of The Verses was a means for Khomeini to meet both of his main policy goals - mobilization at home, confrontation internationally.

Both of these policies reflected the political thinking of Khomeini, and the way in which priorities of power and maintenance of State control determined his use of Islamic concepts and interpretation of "tradition". Ultimately, the political assessment of Khomeini's legacy will depend on whether the Islamic Republic can endure beyond his death and whether the new regime can resolve the most pressing problem it faces, namely that of revitalizing the economy. Whether or not it succeeds, however, the measure of Khomeini's achievement should not be understated: the regime survived for a decade and was able to effect a quick and smooth transition to the successor leadership. It retains considerable support from its own population and its impact upon Muslims the world over continues.

[p.292] Islamism in the central Mediterranean: the case of Tunisia

Tunisia is, historically, the most open and Mediterranean of the Arab countries, an improbable site for a fundamentalist upsurge: but the Islamic and Arab worlds have produced enough surprises in recent years for it to be most uncertain what the future holds, not least because it is in urban areas like greater Tunis that Islamic challenges have grown the most. During the 1950s and 1960s the initiative in Tunisia was held by secular parties, loyal to some variant of socialism. Since the 1970s there has been a growing challenge from the Islamist opposition, and it was this threat to the regime which, in part, accounted for the coup of 7 November 1987 in which Habib Bourguiba, leader of the country since 1956, was deposed. In a break with the autocratic practices of Bourguiba's reign, greater freedom of expression was allowed, and elections for the presidency and for parliament were held in April 1989. Yet this opening of Tunisia, designed to reduce polarization and reintegrate the Islamist forces into political life confronts serious difficulties which have become more evident as the months since Bourguiba's overthrow have elapsed.[7]

During the election period, the uncertainty of to-day's Tunisia, caught between a secular State and a religious opposition, was graphically evident at the entrance to the walled old city, the medina of Kairouan, the holy city of North African Islam. There stood a vast portrait of Tunisian President Ben Ali, installed for the elections: the President gazed confidently at the centre of traditional religious opposition to the State, while the hoarding proclaimed him to be "Protector of the Sanctuary and of Religion". In the medina itself the walls were covered with the electoral programmes of the competing parties: red for the ruling Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD), mauve for the opposition "independents", the rubric under which the Islamic forces, whose party had not been legalized, run in the elections. But the main candidate of the RCD was himself a cleric: Sheikh Abdulrahman Khlif, famous throughout Tunisia for leading a protest in the 1960s against the filming of The Thief of Baghdad in the Kairouan shrine.

In the parliamentary elections on 2 April, the Government list triumphed [p.293] in Kairouan, as it did everywhere else in Tunisia. There was not a single opposition candidate in the 141-seat assembly. But this triumph left open the question that divides Tunisia and which remained open after the coup of 7 November 1987. Ben Ali ended the rule of President Habib Bourguiba, because his regime was increasingly associated with brutality and corruption. Earlier challenged by the socialist and secular opposition, Bourguiba had in his later years faced opposition from the Islamic forces, the Islamic Tendency Movement (MTI). They had led nation-wide protests in 1984 against price rises, and Bourguiba had staged show trials of their leaders in 1986. It was widely believed that had Ben Ali not stated his coup on 7 November radical Islamist elements in the armed forces would have tried to do so themselves.

In the months after Bourguiba's departure Tunisia lived through an ambiguous honeymoon. Bourguiba himself was under a form of house arrest in his native town of Monastir. Squares named after his birthday, 3 August 1903, are now called after 7 November 1987. Some of his statues were pulled down. But streets were still named after him, his grand mausoleum and mosque remained well tended in Monastir. Ben Ali, who worked as Minister of the Interior and Prime Minister under Bourguiba, presented himself as the man of "renewal" and called for political pluralism and respect for human rights. He opened a dialogue with the opposition forces, socialist and Islamic. An amnesty re-leased hundreds of political prisoners and allowed thousands to return home. The press was much freer. But the State over which Ben Ali presided was still that inherited from the French and shaped by Bourguiba: Government policy was, in effect, "Bourguibism without Bourguiba".

The most delicate issue facing the regime was that of the Islamic opposition. In the parliamentary elections of 2 April the Islamist "independents" won around 17 per cent of the vote, displacing the secular left, who won around 3 per cent, as the main opposition. Given that around 1.2 million of those of voting age were not registered, and given the almost complete control which the ruling party has in the rural areas, it can be assumed that the Islamist strength is considerably greater than that 17 per cent: in the Tunis area, the figure was around 30 per cent. Until the latter part of 1989, at least, the Islamists themselves played their cards carefully and seemed intent to maintain their dialogue with the regime in the hope that their party will be legalized. Rachid Ghannoushi, the leader of the Islamic Tendency now "independents", laid greatest stress on those issues that he saw as challenging the Bourguibist legacy; the need to lessen the power of the State, and to make the economy more egalitarian and independent. In an interview immediately after the elections Ghannoushi declared:

[p.294] Our social objective is to contribute to laying the cultural and social bases of a civil society which assumes its most important functions and which the state serves and which constitutes the only source of legitimacy. There is no place for dominating society in the name of any legitimacy - neither historic, religious, proletarian, nor pseudo-democratic. Bourguiba put forward the slogan of the state's prestige, but its real content was the monopoly of the party and of the capitalist interests within which power in the country was located as was the monopoly which Bourguiba exercised over this state. The time has come to raise the slogan of the prestige of society, of the citizen, and of the power which serves both.[8]

Proclamations stressed the need for Tunisia to return to its "Islamic and Arab traditions": but it was not spelt out what these were. Ghannoushi demanded that the day of rest be moved from Sunday to Friday, but he was cautious on the question of women: while many Islamists called for the repeal or revision of the Personal Statute introduced by Bourguiba in 1956, Ghannoushi claimed this would not be necessary. He made much of Ben Ali's electoral use of Islam, arguing that this showed the State rejects European ideas of secularism. There is a world of difference between the calculations of a Ghannoushi and that of more traditional leaders like Sheikh Mohamd Lakhoua from Tunis, who was reported to have called for the return of and of slavery.

During and after the elections, the Islamists requested that their Party of the Renaissance, Hizb al-Nanda be legalized, but after a long period of uncertainty this was finally refused in June 1989. The truce that had lasted for some time between Government and Opposition began to break down. The Islamists denounced Government authoritarianism, and Ben Ali in a major speech on 27 June warned against a proliferation of parties and the dangers of instability. The hope of the French-educated secular elite who run Tunisia is that, with a combination of concessions and firmness, the Opposition threat will recede. As the example of Kairouan shows, the regime has gone some way to presenting itself in Islamic garb, much as in Egypt Sadat and Mubarak sought to appropriate some Islamic legitimacy. Posters of Ben Ali during the election campaign showed him in the white robes of the hajji soon after November 7 he went on the 'umrah the individual pilgrimage to Mecca. Election posters for the ruling party showed a set of hands with the slogan "The Hand of God is with the Assembly". Government speeches now begin with an invocation of Allah and end with quotes from the Koran. Religious programmes feature on TV, something forbidden under Bourguiba.

[p.295] Nowhere is this shift more evident than in the attitude to the Muslim month of fasting Ramadan. Bourguiba, intent on modernizing the country, ordered restaurants to stay open and told people to eat. On one occasion he took the symbolic step of drinking a glass of orange juice during a public rally held in Ramadan. Yet even at the height of the secularizing drive, in the 1960s, there was widespread observance of fasting. During the Ramadan of 1989, which began in early April, observance was over 90 per cent. In an excess of zeal, brought on in part because there has been no religious education in Tunisia under Bourguiba, many believers fasted even when Islamic codes say they should not - pregnant women, children under the age of puberty, people such as diabetics or kidney patients who should eat or take medicines regularly. The press published widely on the significance and rituals of Ramadan.

After, Ben Ali in power only since November 1987, hopes were high that he could resolve the country's economic problems - high unemployment and regional imbalances. He improved Tunisia's relations with its neighbours, Algeria and Libya, and his standing in the West was high: President Mitterand visited Tunis in June 1989 and there is firm, if discrete, American backing - Ben Ali is known to have worked closely with the CIA during his earlier career. But despite all the initial respect for dialogue on both sides, the prospects of a more antagonistic relationship at some point in the future appear consider-able. The post-Bourguibist regime remained as committed to a monopoly of power and to its secular programme as did le combattant supreme himself. On their side, the Islamists were at first biding their time, presenting a moderate face and consolidating their support, in the hope of an opening in the future. By late 1989 the honeymoon was over: Ben Ali denounced those who mixed religion with politics and refused permission for the Islamists to form a legal party, allowing them only to publish a newspaper, Al-Fajr (Dawn). For their part, the Islamists began to denounce the 'secular left' in more violent terms and, mobilized students in support of an Islamization of the curriculum. Spokesmen for al-Nanda also went further than hitherto in their calls for an Islamization of society: their demands now included the compulsory veiling of women, the basing of all law on shariah, the allocation of constitutional and legal authority to ulema, and the gradual ending of tourism. If part of the explanation for this radicalization of the political scene was simply the ending of caution on both sides following November 1987, another was the increasingly polarization situation in neighbouring Algeria, where the FIS was taking a more aggressive stand against the FLN and what it saw as alien and secular social practices.

The broader implications of this uncertainty in Tunisia are evident enough. [p.296] Tunisia has long been regarded as one of the west's more sympathetic interlocutors in the Arab world, and, together with Morocco, is regarded as exerting a stabilising influence on its neighbours Algeria and Libya. Western military and economic aid to Tunisia serves evident strategic purposes. The Tunisian government itself is keen to maintain these links, and also to strengthen its ties to the EEC. But the rise of the Islamist movements during the 1980s has raised other possibilities which the transition to Ben Ali has done only a limited amount to assuage. On the one hand, the Islamist forces in Tunisia have attracted the support of a variety of external forces - in Libya, Saudi Arabia, Iran. Much of this support may take a uniquely rhetorical form, but it is certainly the case that these states, rivals amongst each other within the Islamic world, would like to encourage a change of orientation, internal and external, in Tunisia. Tunisia has, therefore, become the site of conflicts within the Arab and Islamic worlds as a whole, the outcome of which is by no means certain.

The Revolt against the Modernizing State

In the context of Islamism itself, the Tunisian movement has certain characteristics that enable it to be compared, and distinguished from, those in other societies. First, it represents a revolt against the secular modernizing State. As with other movements, including that of Iran, it has been the product of a growing opposition between State and society, reflecting the loss of mobilizatory power and legitimacy of a modernizing State. In the 1950s and 1960s the Bourguibist regime had considerable success in generating support from the population, through its nationalist policies, its social interventions, and its organization of much of the population into the Neo-Destour Party and its mass affiliates. Gradually, during the 1970s, this strength began to erode, and, with considerable social change, especially urbanization and education, the power of the ruling party eroded. With Bourguiba's growing authoritarianism and the corruption of the ruling party, this alienation of the population increased.

What the Tunisian movement therefore represents, as did the Iranian upsurge of a decade before, is the crisis of the post- independence regimes. Broadly speaking, it can be stated in the first decades after independence, the initiative was held by parties and regimes that espoused a "modernizing" programme: strengthening the State, spreading modern and secular values, seeking to transform their countries in order to bring them closer to some model or ideal of what a modern society should be. The reforms of Bourguiba, [p.297] like those of Ataturk in Turkey, the Shahs in Iran and Nasser in Egypt, fell into that category. So too, in a different context and with a distinctive ideology, did those of post-revolutionary communist and other third-world revolutionary regimes.

The record of these regimes was, however, contradictory. On the one hand, there was much that was not changed or transformed, despite official appearances. Religious beliefs, pre-nationalist loyalties, famility and clan ties persisted. The drive by such modernizing States to intervene also served to antagonise social groups who felt their interests, values, and status threatened. Equally important, however, the very success of these regimes acted against them: for it was on the basis of changes which these modernizing regimes introduced that much of the opposition arose. One such change was education: in Iran as much as in Tunisia the support for the Islamist movements draws on educated young people, and often ones with a degree of scientific education. Another was urbanization: this brought large numbers of people into cities, an environment where they were more easily organized and mobilized by opposition forces and where the tensions and problems of social change, including corruption and Government inefficiency, were more evident.

Equally important is the manner in which these Islamist currents have challenged and to a large extent displaced the more traditional leaders of opposition, the parties of the secular left. This reflects several factors: in Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria the opposition of the immediate post-independence period tended to take a left form, with communist and radical socialist forces playing a significant role. Their main criticism of the Government was that it was not going far enough in its social reforms, but they also tended to criticize the modernizing regimes for their foreign policies, especially, as was the case with Iran, Turkey, and Tunisia, for their links to the West. Left parties therefore sought to present themselves as radical social critics and as bearers of nationalist legitimacy. What has happened in the 1970s and 1980s is that these left-wing forces have been displaced by the Islamist ones. Left parties have been marginalized - as is evident in Iran, Egypt, and Tunisia - and have often adopted a defensive ideological posture vis--vis Islamism. They now claim to respect Islamic values and seek compromise with the Islamists which the latter, often confident of their greater appeal, may not want to reciprocate.[9]

[p.298] This displacement has come about through several mechanisms. First, the left parties with their own secular and modernizing ideologies came to be associated with the culture and ideology of the ruling parties. They were seen more and more as just another representative of that State-centred and alien modernization that the Islamists rejected. Secondly, the social groups amongst whom the left had been based were often the secular intelligentsia and parts of the working class. Few had any following amongst the peasantry or the urban poor who were not in modern industrial employment. In the new social conditions this has meant that other social bases for opposition, ones to whom the left was unable to appeal, had developed. Equally important, however, has been the success of the Islamists in acting as an organized and ideologically coherent opposition, i.e. in rivalling the traditional left opposition in its own terms. Much as Islamist movements use traditional forms of religious organization - mosques, madreses or religious schools, sufi and other underground religious sects - they have also developed modern techniques and forms of organization normally associated with secular parties: welfare programmes, including educational and health centres, cassettes and videos of sermons and speeches by opposition leaders, nation-wide political organizations, and fund-raising machineries. One of the greatest surprises of the Iranian revolution was the extent to which the apparently unworldly Islamist forces were able to bring millions of people onto the streets and run what was, by any standards, a very successful nation-wide opposition political campaign.

This success in the field of organization is matched by a success in the field of ideology. Here much emphasis has been placed, by Islamists and their rivals alike, on their appeal to "traditional" values. They are represented as speaking for a set of values that are more in accord with the traditions of the country and hence with its people. There is no doubt that this image corresponds in some measure to the truth: that the decades of secular leaders and dirigiste States talking at their peoples in the language of modernization and development did not correspond to the world-view of these peoples, was often not understood or misunderstood, and left far less ideological impact than appeared to be the case at the time. This is as true of the relevant Islamic countries as it is of the USSR and other communist States. "Traditional" values did survive, with greater hold on the populations than the new, State-down, modernizing programmes. But this apparently straightforward articulation of tradition also conceals "contemporary" choices. On the one hand, there is a choice as to which parts of tradition to articulate - the more democratic or authoritarian parts, those relating to collective or individual values, not to mention varying views of the place of women, slaves, foreigners and so forth [p.299] within the Islamic society. The Islamists of Iran and Tunisia have made choices as to which parts of the tradition to emphasize, and that choice is given not be the weight of tradition itself, but by modern, secular and political, concerns. Khomeini's views on the power of the state to override the shari'ah are a clear example of this, as are Ghannoushi's calculated views of women's role in society.

There is a second important element of the ideological success of the Islamists, namely their appropriation of the values and claims of the left. There is no need to believe that Khomeini actually read any Marxist writings or that any other Islamists have done so to see the influence of Marxist and radical ideas of the 1950s and 1960s on these third-world thinkers. Anti-imperialism, dependency, cultural nationalism, hostility to monopolies, solidarity of the oppressed peoples of the world - all these standard themes of the earlier nationalisms of the third world recur in the statements of these Islamic leaders. The economic programme pursued by Iran in the 1980s reflects many of the ideas on "de-linking" and self-sufficiency propagated by dependency theorists such as Samir Amin, Andre Gunder Frank, and Franz Fanon.

Two central ideas are populism and nationalism: the assertion of a common popular interest against the oppressors, and not least against the intrusive authoritarian State, and, at the same time an assertion of national legitimacy against external enemies.[10] The existence of an external enemy that is rejected on both national and religious grounds, namely Israel, has of course fuelled this Islamist appropriation of nationalism, leading the left in Egypt, for example, to vie with the Islamist right in anti-Israeli, and often chauvinist, criticisms of the Camp David accords. For all the differences, the analogy with m is evident: just as "national socialism" took over some of the ideas of its left-wing competitor and provided a rival, equally well organized and ideologically more successful force than the communist and socialist parties, so the Islamists have both challenged and appropriated the ideologies of the more traditional opposition parties. The ideological success of Islamist movements vis--vis the left has therefore involved a dual process, of ideological and political displacement combined with appropriation of the latter's ideas and appeal.

[p.300] Conclusion: Islamism and the Future

In the immediate aftermath of the Iranian revolution, it was believed by many that the Islamic world would be swept by mass revolts. This did not occur, and in August 1988 the Iranian regime faced its greatest setback by accepting the ceasefire with Iraq. However, the causes of Islamist militancy are deeper and more enduring than the particular influence of Iran and in this sense there is every likelihood that movements of this kind, and States more or less influenced by Islamism, will continue to articulate such ideas and policies for a long time to come. The recent advance of populism Islamism in Tunisia and Algeria is indication enough of the long-run appeal of such ideas. So too is the growing tendency of ethnic and communal movements involving Muslim interaction with non-Muslims to take an Islamist form (Western Europe, Caucasus, Lebanon, Egypt). It would seem to be likely that those living on the frontiers of the Islamic and non-Islamic worlds, where these run within rather than along State boundaries, will face many difficulties in the years ahead and as much on the non-Christian (Hindu, Confucian) frontiers as on the Christian.

Much external discussion has focused on how the Islamist upsurge constitutes a "threat" or challenge to other States, particularly the West. The issues of oil and terrorism are particularly prominent here. Analysis of the last ten years suggests however that these international consequences are overstated. The oil market was remarkably little affected by the Iran-Iraq war and all States need to sell their oil. Terrorism is an issue, but, compared to other global problems, a subaltern one and not one confined to the Middle East. Indeed, for all the rhetoric and occasional spectacular act involved it could be argued that the Islamic states are if anything weakened by these new ideologies, since they create internal tension and conflict that lessens their ability to play an effective international role.[11] The greatest challenge to Islamism is, therefore, not to the non-Islamic world, but to the Muslim peoples themselves: the ability to find and implement a viable economic development strategy, the creation of co-existence and tolerance between different ethnic and confessional groups, the promotion of democracy and political tolerance. These are all goals which the heightened militancy of Islamism makes it more difficult for these States to attain.

[1] As Nikkie Keddie has pointed out (note 7 below) the terms "fundamentalism", "Islamism", "integrism" are used almost interchangeably in current writings on movements that apply Islamic concepts to politics. All have their problems: fundamentalism presupposes a return to first principles, but the question of what constitutes those first principles maybe disputed. The key issue is that movements of this kind seek to mould society and the state according to what they claim to be Islamic principles.

[2] On Islamic communities in western Europe see G. Kepel, Les Banlieues de l'Islam (Paris, 1988) and T. Gerholm and Y. Georg (eds.) The New Islamic presence in western Europe (London, 1988). See also my review article, "The Struggle for the Migrant Soul", Times Literary Supplement, 14-20 April 1989 in which I discuss the Rushdie affair and political uses made of it. On the ramifications of the Rushdie affair, L. Appignanesi and S. Maitland, The Rushdie File (London, 1989), and M. Ruthven, A Affair: Salman Rushdie and the Rage of Islam (London, 1990).

[3] For further analysis of the Iranian case, and comparisons with Pakistan, Israel and Arab states, F. Halliday and H. Alavi (eds.), State and Ideology in the Middle East and Pakistan (London, 1988). In my chapter on Iran in this book I have developed an account of the causes of the Iranian revolution. For my earlier study of the Shah's regime and its internal contradictions see Iran: Dictatorship and Development (London, 1978).

[4] Islamist movements from below are covered in E. Burke III and I. Lapidus (eds.), Islam, Politics and Social Movements (London, 1988) and in Halliday and Alavi, cit.

[5] Text of Khomeini's letter to Khamene'i in BBCSummmy of World Broadcasts Part 4, 8 January 1988. For analysis see: J. Reissner, "Der Imam and die Verfassung", Orient , 29, 2, June 1988. Khomeini's theorization of how an Islamic State can, for reasons of Stae interest, override religious precepts has an ironic relevance to the Rushdie affair: Iranian and other defenders of the death sentence on Rushdie claim that Khomeini's condemnation of Rushdie to death cannot be overriden because it is necessitated by religious principle. Application of Khomeini's maslahat principle would suggest that, if Iranian political leaders thought it was in their interests to do so, they could cancel the death sentence. That they do not so is not because of some religious compulsion but because, within the politics of the Islamic world, it is still profitable for them to maintain their stance.

[6] On Iranian foreign policy since 1979 and the place within it of Islamic themes, my "Iranian Foreign Policy Since 1979: Internationalism and nationalism in the Islamic Revolution", in J. Cole and N. Keddie (eds.), Shi'ism and Social Protest, (New Haven, 1986).

[7] For the Tunisian background, N. Keddie, "The Islamist Movement in Tunisia" , The Maghreb Review, vol. 11. no. 1 (1986); C. Moore, Tunisia since Independence (Berkeley, 1965); N. Salem, Habib Bourguiba, Islam and the Creation of Tunisia (London, 1984).

[8] Interview with Ghannoushi in the Tunisian weekly Realites , 192, 21-27 April 1989. Further Islamist critiques of the Ben Ali regime reported in Le Monde, 9 June, 5 September, 10 November, 6 December 1989.

[9] This was classically the case in the Iranian revolution: the Islamists allowed the left to ally with them in the initial revolutionary period and then isolated and destroyed them one by one.

[10] On the "modernity" of Khomeini's theories and the contemporary preconditions for the emergence of his movement see the very perceptive study by S. Zubeida, Islam, the People and the State (London, 1989).

[11] For a critique of contemporary Islamism from within the Muslim world, and the weakening of Islamic society and culture it entails, A. Akbar, Discovering Islam, Making Sense of Muslim History and Society (London, 1988).