Wednesday’s papers: Tunisian and Egyptian Islamists are not the same

Following the death of Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi, Egyptian commentators have alleged that Egypt’s media as a whole failed to have much to say about the incident, as there are so few experts capable of following changes in the neighboring country.

Similarly, Egyptian newspapers have fallen far short of adequately following Tunisia's unprecedented achievement in conducting free elections with a high turnout.

Tunisia's moderate Islamist party, Ennahda, claimed a thumping victory in the country's elections on 23 October, sending a message to the region that once-banned Islamists are vying for power following what has been dubbed the “Arab Spring.”

This might echo well in Egypt, as the country’s Islamists organize their lists and alliances for the pivotal poll scheduled for 28 November.

Wednesday’s papers publish news about Tunisia in their internal pages. Privately owned Al-Dostour does not find the events in Tunisia important, so the paper only offers a few translated lines about Tunisia on page nine. Privately owned Youm7 follows the same course by allocating a small story from a wire news agency to refer to the Tunisian elections. The liberal Wafd Party’s Al-Wafd paper, though, places a larger story about Tunisia on page two.

Even state-owned papers, which traditionally are less local in covering international news, allocate limited space to analyzing the results of the Tunisian elections.

Privately-owned Al-Shorouk might be the exception in Tunisian election coverage, placing it in one of the headlines on their front page, in addition to devoting an entire inside page to the elections as well.

In its coverage, Al-Shorouk highlights that the election was fair because the neutrality of the Tunisian military and its resolute commitment not to intervene in the internal politics.

“The Tunisian army has kept its neutrality and has not intervened in the electoral process, which has led to the success of the elections,” the paper quotes Tunisian expert Abu Baker al-Sogheir as saying.

But more importantly, Sogheir argues that Tunisia's Ennahda party, which compares itself to the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey, ascended to victory at the expense of the secular political system established by former President Habib Bourguiba.

Bourguiba claimed office in 1957 and until his removal from office by the recently deposed Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 1987, Bourguiba tried to transform the country's social system to become more Western. Secularists celebrate his promotion of women's rights, especially in prohibiting polygamy in Tunisia.

Al-Shorouk also emphasizes statements made by Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi, in which he sent “messages of assurance” about Ennahda's governing intentions to domestic and foreign powers.

Ghannouchi, according to the paper, said his party is committed to all international conventions previously signed by Tunisia, as well as domestic laws protecting women's rights.

In both Turkey and Tunisia, Islam is the overwhelmingly dominant religion. Ninety-nine percent of Turks are Muslims, as are 98 percent of Tunisians. These demographics, though, have not prevented the two states from adopting secular political systems. The Tunisian constitution declares Islam as the official religion but does not mention Sharia as the foundation of the legal system.

Back in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) occupies headlines after the party announced that it would give up its slogan, “Islam is the Solution.”

At a joint press conference on Tuesday with the rest of the Democratic Alliance – which gathers 11 political parties for a unified electoral list – the FJP confirmed it would not use “Islam is the Solution” as an electoral slogan, Youm7 reports. This month, many political groups have raised concerns about the FJP using the slogan in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Other Islamist forces accused the group of trying to monopolize the political use of religion, as the Salafi-led Nour Party, Nahda Party, and Jama'a al-Islamiya confirmed that they would not use religious slogans in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Secular parties similarly denounced the FJP's indication it would use the slogan, accusing the group of using religion for political benefits.

Giving up such a slogan is one of the key demands set by Osama al-Ghazaly Harb, a political expert and president of the Democratic Front Party, for the FJP to be considered a modern political party.

In a lengthy article in state-run Al-Ahram, Harb argues that unlike other Islamist parties, namely Ennahda and the AKP, who offer real programs to their countries, the  FJP is only concerned with uttering vague political and religious slogans that only stir up emotions in ordinary people.

Harb concludes that the comparison between the FJP – with its vague polemics – on one side and Ennahda and the AKP – with their acceptance in living under a secular political system – on the other might be frustrating. But he adds that there is no way for the FJP to contribute to the welfare of all Egyptians aside from following the path of Ennahda and the AKP. In other words, the FJP, according to Harb, must accept the religious and cultural pluralism in Egyptian society as well as open the vein for internal democracy within the party itself.

Egypt's papers:

Al-Ahram: Daily, state-run, largest distribution in Egypt

Al-Akhbar: Daily, state-run, second to Al-Ahram in institutional size

Al-Gomhurriya: Daily, state-run

Rose al-Youssef: Daily, state-run

Al-Dostour: Daily, privately owned

Al-Shorouk: Daily, privately owned

Al-Wafd: Daily, published by the liberal Wafd Party

Youm7: Daily, privately owned

Al-Tahrir: Daily, privately owned

Sawt al-Umma: Weekly, privately owned

Al-Arabi: Weekly, published by the Nasserist Party

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