Journalist Michael Totten has an intriguing report from Tunisia, where he finds rampant frustration toward the United States for its embrace of the new Islamist-controlled government there.
After dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in the first Arab Spring uprising last year, the Islamist Ennahda party won control of the Tunisian assembly, which chose party member Hamadi Jebali to be prime minister in November.
Washington has courted the new government, baffling secularists in Tunisia, Totten writes. That's because Ennahda is viewed as a moderate party in American media and government, an assessment with which Tunisians on the street strongly disagree. "No to America, no to Qatar, the people of Tunisia will always be free" marchers chanted Tuesday during rallies to commemorate Tunisian independence.
"People here are against the United States helping Ennahda," a journalist told Totten. "All Americans who come here are against the Islamists, but the American government is supporting them. I wish we had a good, modern, respectful Islamic party. I'm a Muslim and I'm proud of it, but I'm not proud of this party."
The government is seen as far too cozy with radical Salafists, looking the other way as the radicals stake a claim to the new society. Ennahda members joined the Salafists in a recent rally calling for Sharia law in Tunisia.
The critics "are not part of a marginal fringe movement like their Egyptian counterparts," Totten writes. Though they failed to stop Ennahda's rise, he believes they constitute a majority of the Tunisian people. Politically "We made the revolution and they got the power," complained one student, identified as an Amnesty International volunteer. Ennahda is "a fascist party," he said.
"They tried to convince people they're just defending religion and they won the election that way, but they have a fascist program."
This happened despite a majority of Tunisians supporting other parties, and Totten notes that Ennahda suffered a drubbing during recent student elections.
All this creates an odd situation in which "young liberal activists, the natural allies of Americans, are angry because the United States is perceived as being with the Islamists, but, like it or not, that's how it is here," Totten writes.
The whole dispatch is worth reading.