Tunisia was the place where the much hyped Arab Spring started, and where long time Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown by a popular revolution.
However, as long time Arab world observer and journalist at large Michael Totten observes, the democratic revolution has largely been stolen by the Ennahda Party, Tunisia's Islamist Muslim Brotherhood offshoot.
And the Liberals and secularists are angered at what they perceive as the Obama Administration's assistance in helping them do it:
Radical Islamists are making inroads in the Arab world's most advanced, liberal, and tolerant country. And the secularists think the United States is helping them do it.
Thousands took to the streets of Tunisia's capital Tunis yesterday to celebrate the end of French colonial rule in 1956. As one might expect on independence day, most were in an anti-imperialist mood. Who are the “imperialists” in the Tunisian imagination today? Not the French. Not anymore. The “imperialists” of today are the United States and, oddly enough, Qatar. Both are seen, fairly or not, as the backers of Tunisia's Islamists.
“No to America, no to Qatar, the people of Tunisia will always be free.”
I heard that chant all morning on Avenue Habib Bourguiba, Tunis' own Champs-Elysees named after the modern republic's Ataturk-like first president. Demonstrators were protesting Washington's warm relations and close cooperation with the new ruling party which already appears to be slipping in popularity.
“People here think the United States is cooperating with Ennahda,” said local journalist Ashraf Ayadi, referring to the Islamists who won 42 percent of the vote in the election last October. Even though a majority of Tunisians voted against them, they still got more votes than any of the other various parties, so they got to choose the prime minister.
“People here are against the United States helping Ennahda,” Ayadi continued. “All Americans who come here are against the Islamists, but the American government is supporting them. I wish we had a good, modern, respectful Islamic party. I'm a Muslim and I'm proud of it, but I'm not proud of this party.”
The Americans are with the Islamists. They support Ennahda in Tunisia and the Wahhabists in Saudi Arabia.
I've heard this complaint from every single secular person I've interviewed in this country without exception, from academics and democratic activists to journalists and teachers. They seem to be unanimously shocked and dismayed and appalled. The subject comes up again and again in conversation even when I ask about other things. It's impossible to spend any time here whatsoever without hearing about it.
These people are not part of a marginal fringe movement like their Egyptian counterparts. Politically secular Tunisians make up half the country or more. And they're depressed about what is happening now. Rami Sghayier, a young activist who does volunteer work with Amnesty International, seems to speak for most when he says, “We made the revolution and they got the power.”
They, of course, are the dour men and women of Ennahda, Tunisia's version of the Muslim Brotherhood.
It turns out that just like their Egyptian counterparts, the Ennahda aren't the 'moderates' President Obama told us they were. Instead, they're allied with the salafis in Tunisia, just as the Muslim Brotherhood are in Egypt and pretty much everywhere else:
“It is a fascist party,” Sghayier continued. “They tried to convince people they're just defending religion and they won the election that way, but they have a fascist program. They said if they win they will create 500,000 jobs for unemployed people, but they gave the ministry of employment to a different party. Nothing happened. They're not even trying. It's a fascist party because it's protecting the Salafists and other extremists. We don't only have the Salafists here, we also have Hizb ut-Tahrir. The interior minister did not even move his finger when the Tunisian national flag was attacked at Manouba University by Salafists. Last week, on March 7, they took down our country's flag and replaced it with their black flag.”
Most Tunisians don't seem to understand Washington. And the administration does not seem to understand Tunis. Western governments, including the Obama administration, decided Ennahda is a moderate Islamist party that they can do business with, but secular and liberal Tunisians think that analysis is a load of old bollocks.
I met with Zeyneb Farhat, director of Tunisia's national theater, El Teatro.
“Most journalists in the West,” I said, “describe Ennahda as a moderate party in almost every single article about this country.”
“These are not serious people,” she said. “They have no idea what they are talking about. Ennahda is not moderate. Let me tell you, nobody at the United States Embassy in Tunisia was informed. Nobody. That's why Hillary Clinton twice told Ennahda that their merchandise is not what was sold a few months ago in order to get support from the American administration.
“We're closely following all the declarations of the people in government. Two days ago the minister of the interior was speaking more to Hillary Clinton than to the people of Tunisia when he said, 'Nobody is above the law and the Salafists will be punished.' But they're not. Of course they're not. He was lying. Just a few days ago there was a demonstration in front of the parliament by Salafists carrying the black flag and demanding the implementation of Sharia law. Officials from Ennahda were with them. We are not children. We know how to read signs.”
It's important to remember that the majority of Tunisians voted against Ennahda. If either the Democratic or Republican party in the United States won a mere 42 percent of the vote, the election would rightly be called an epic shellacking.
One place Totten has it wrong, in my opinion, is giving the Obama Administration a pass for their overt encouragement and support of the Muslim Brotherhood and offshoots like Ennahda in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia,not to mention US financing of Hamas through funds channeled through various NGO's.
The Brotherhood and their Salafist allies are now in control of Libya, Gaza and Tunisia and have a decent chance of taking over Jordan and the Arab occupied areas of Judea and Samaria west of the Jordan River. This is only a step away from the Caliphate Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna dreamed of, and exactly why al-Qaeda's new leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is now relocating al-Qaeda's main base of operations back to the Arab world.
President Obama and the clueless elites that he surrounded himself saw the Muslim Brotherhood as allies in what they conceived as a new world order, not as dangerously radical Islamists and salafists.
Barring unseen events, we'll be living with his error for some time to come.