Emory International Law Review


Erica Scott


At its Tenth National Party Conference in 2016, Tunisia’s Ennahda Party announced that it would be formally rejecting the label “political Islam” and rebranding itself as a party of “Muslim democrats.” As part of this new identity, Ennahda decided to specialize exclusively in political affairs, officially separating religious activism from the party after decades of pursuing both politics and preaching. This announcement fueled speculation about Ennahda’s motivations, the decision’s practical implications, and its consequences for the relationship between religion and politics in Tunisia, which was only a few years into its democratic transition at the time.

One thinker whose work can provide insight into Ennahda’s rebranding is Abdullahi An-Na’im, a leading scholar of Islam, human rights, and constitutionalism. In his 2008 book Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari’a, An-Na’im outlines a normative framework for relating Islam, the state, and politics with the goal of equipping Muslims with the tools and space to negotiate “the role of Islam in public life.” Writing before the Arab Spring, An-Na’im did not have the opportunity to include post-revolution Tunisia as a case study. However, many of the core themes in his book—such as constitutionalism, human rights, and the public place of religion—have emerged as primary topics of debate in Tunisia’s democratic transition since 2011, resulting in an opportunity to assess how his ideas have played out in this context.