Let’s be 100 percent clear here: In theory there might be such a thing as a moderate who wants more Islamic influence in political life—I can think of some very tiny groups that might be able to claim that distinction—but the party that won the Tunisian election is definitely not in that category and the same applies to the significant Islamist forces in Libya and Egypt, too.
Indeed, the winning party in Tunisia is the Muslim Brotherhood. For years, those of us who have been studying this country and movement have known this to be true. The statements by the Tunisian branch of the Brotherhood, except when they were made for Western ears explicitly, have been very hardline indeed.
Here’s the great Martin Kramer recalling why the United States refused to give Rachid Ghannouchi, the new “moderate Islamist” leader of Tunisia, a visa in 1994. Even in the 1980s, some were calling him a “moderate” even as he supported the most extremist ideas and actions. For example, “We must wage unceasing war against the Americans until they leave the land of Islam, or we will burn and destroy all their interests across the entire Islamic world.” And here is Ghannouchi in 2001 extolling suicide bombers and advocating anti-American violence. No one seems to believe it necessary to offer any actual evidence that he’s changed his views. He hasn’t.
Anyone claiming that this is a moderate group is either lying or has been deceived.
But why, then, are other parties in Tunisia so willing to work with them in a unity government? Simple.
First, many of these groups agree with a lot of their ideas.
Second, they live in the country and have to try to do anything possible to moderate those whom they cannot defeat.
Third, they opportunistically hope to get a share of power and that, of course, means patronage and money.