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January 20, 2011 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 656

The Middle East Crisis Part I - Jihadists See Turmoil in Tunisia as a Chance for Establishing Islamic State

January 20, 2011 | By R. Green
North Africa, Tunisia | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 656

Introduction

Jihadists and radical Islamists have been closely following the dramatic events in Tunisia which have shaken up the regime. These same circles see these events as an opportunity to promote their cause, and are taking advantage of the events to spur other Arab peoples toward waging a popular battle against their rulers, and attempting to turn Tunisia itself into a front for jihad. Prominent jihadist leaders and clerics issued statements encouraging Tunisians to persevere in their battle against the regime and calling for Arab peoples elsewhere to emulate their actions. In the jihadists' view, the situation in Tunisia is now ripe for the establishment of an Islamic state. They stress that the coming regime must be an Islamic one, and that Tunisians must not accept a mere reshuffling of leaders.

The Toppling of Ben Ali Poses a Propaganda Problem for Salafi-Jihadists Jihadist scholars and writers on jihadi forums are riding the Tunisians' coattails, presenting the uprising in Tunisia as jihad and calling for it to escalate and spread to other Arab and Muslim countries by all means possible. However, the background behind the events in Tunisia is economic, and unrelated to any Islamic issues, and president Ben Ali was ousted due to popular disfavor. This poses a propaganda difficulty for Salafi-jihadists, since for the past few decades they have stressed the illegitimacy of the Arab regimes from an Islamic viewpoint as the primary reason for opposing them. Salafi-jihadists have vigorously promoted the notion that the Arab rulers are tyrants [taghut or pl. tawaghit] against whom Muslims must wage jihad, which in their view is not only a duty incumbent upon all Muslims, but is also the ideal way of setting the Muslim peoples free. Furthermore, Salafi-jihadists reject democracy and any participation in institutional political activity, and have reservations regarding popular movements.

The jihadist writers who discussed the events tackled this problem from several directions. Some, including Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) leader 'Abd Al-Wadoud, simply ignored the secular, economic background of the uprising. Others warned the Muslims in Tunisia to conduct their rebellion for the sake of Allah, rather than for worldly benefits, saying that they should espouse nobler goals than merely improving their economic situation. Prominent cleric Abu Basir Al-Tartusi found another way to circumvent the problem, by maintaining that the events in Tunisia were indeed a "popular Islamic intifada." Others have urged the supporters of the Salafi-jihadist movement to steer clear of politics and especially of secular parties, and concentrate on da'wa. Islamic website Izharudeen which is affiliated with Salafi Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad published a press release on its website calling to hold a demonstration outside the Tunisian Embassy in London "for the implementation of shari'ah in Tunisia."

Following is a summary of statements by important jihadist figures regarding the events in Tunisia:...

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