Long-standing Ennahda member and prominent American Islamist Radwan Masmoudi recently announced his decision to leave the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID) – an organization he founded that effectively functions as a proxy for the Tunisian Islamist party Ennahda – in order to join Ennahda's political bureau itself.
Since it was founded in 1999, CSID has unashamedly promoted Ennahda and its representatives. The CSID describes itself as "dedicated to studying Islamic and democratic political thought and merging them into a modern Islamic democratic discourse." Over the years, CSID's annual conferences have included such speakers as Ennahda co-founders Rached Ghannouchi and Abdelfattah Mourou, senior members of Ennahda such as Ossama Sghaier, and Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood member Abdul Mawgoud Dardery.
Masmoudi has long been active in Tunisia – training religious actors through CSID (purportedly) to counter extremism; and forming partnerships with several Tunisian regional governors to implement various CSID projects. CSID works to present Islamists as the only bulwark against terrorism. In 2018, for example, CSID collaborated with the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy on a report that encouraged the supporting and funding of Tunisian Salafis who, as part of the "religious sector," will supposedly provide "positive alternatives to Jihadi-Salafism."
Neither Ennahda nor its Salafi allies have in fact offered such "positive alternatives." Ennahda won Tunisia's first free elections in 2011 after the fall of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who had ruled Tunisia since 1987. Ennahda claims to be a "centrist" and "moderate" party, but its years in power confirmed that it prioritized Islamist ideology over the Tunisian people.
From 2012 to 2014, Ennahda did little as extremists took control of mosques and encouraged the Tunisian youth to wage jihad in Syria (which they did in large numbers). Ansar Al Sharia Tunisia (AST), an organization linked to Al-Qaeda, was permitted by the Ennahda government to recruit teenagers and organize rallies where participants expressed their support for Bin Laden. Tunisia's public prosecutor has confirmed that the Tunisian Brahim Aouissaoui, who killed three people in Nice in October 2020, attended AST events.
Once again, the lines between lawful and violent Islamism appear most porous.