The 10th Congress of the Tunisian Ennahda Party: Is it the End of Political Islam?

 Ennahda, the Tunisian movement and political party, held its 10th congress from May 20 to May 22, 2016. The event was closely followed by local, regional, and international media and attended by high-level dignitaries and delegations. 

Due to the private nature of the congressional sessions, one can only read about what has transpired through leaked reports from the closed sessions: since these reports are leaked by movement leaders and senior members and intended to influence the public and the Tunisian political class in particular, they are often of little help in understanding ‘what is happening inside. 

For international and local audiences, as well as those interested in political Islam and the Arab Spring, one of the most important events of the congress was its decision on the issue of “functional specialization,” or the separation between the “political” and the “convictional” in the movement. 

Since congressional deputies have approved this separation principle, the reduced presence of direct religious/ideological influences will probably become most apparent in the daily work of the party and its programs and agendas. We might therefore conclude that Ennahda as a party has adopted a civic direction, although its leadership so far appears to be hesitant to use the label “secular.” 

What can we read into this decisive shift in one of the most influential movements of political Islam? 

Could this be just a division of roles in the movement’s tactics? Could it be a real change in the movement’s political and convictional mindset? Could it be a culmination of a process of smaller, past political shifts? Or could it be revisions dictated by the realities of the post revolution period, which were hard to achieve before?