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al-Qayrawan Media Foundation

al-Qayrawān Media Foundation (QMF) actually originally launched in late April 2011 when it also set up a new group in Tunisia named Anṣār al-Sharī’ah in Tunisia (AST). I have been researching these guys since they first came onto the scene last spring. For background on QMF/AST check out my articles for the CTC Sentinel and the Washington Institute. The below statement announces that QMF will officially start releasing content to the jihādī forums, specifically Shamūkh al-Islām, meaning that AST is officially in the AQ orbit. Nearly twelve months after Tunsians deposed the former regime, AQ has a group that believes in its worldview and is officially sanctioned to post its content to its online forums. It should be noted that that they are a marginal voice in Tunisia, yet it is definitely something to keep ones eyes on.

Click the following link for a safe PDF copy: al-Qayrawān Media Foundation — “Statement of its Official Launch”

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Source: http://www.shamikh1.info/vb/showthread.php?t=141296

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Since last month’s free and fair elections in Tunisia, much of the focus has been on Ennahda’s victory, the formation of a new constitution-writing Constituent Assembly, and how to rebuild the shattered economy. Yet these important matters threaten to obscure another significant challenge to the country’s nascent democracy: Salafism. Although the extremist ideology has not yet taken root to the same degree as in Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf states, the new openness in Tunisian society has allowed Salafi elements to widely propagate their message — one that undergirds the intellectual foundations of jihadism and, as such, poses a potential danger to the country’s stability. To counter this threat, Washington should consider engaging Tunisia’s new government on appropriate deradicalization and training efforts.

Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia

One of the Salafi groups that has benefited from the country’s new openness is Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST). Founded in late April, a few months after the fall of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s regime, the group is headed by spiritual leader Sheikh Abu Ayyad al-Tunisi. It also takes religious advice from popular Tunisian Salafist Sheikh al-Khatib al-Idrisi, who was imprisoned for several years during the Ben Ali era. AST is especially active in the working-class Bab al-Khadra neighborhood of Tunis, with members attending al-Kambes and Malik bin Anas Mosques and becoming involved with the local mosque committee.

Similar to the youth revolutionaries who led the Tunisian uprising, one of the key aspects of AST’s dawa (Islamic propagation) activities has been its ability to bypass the mainstream press and harness social media to bring its message to the masses. AST runs a blog and also has two Facebook pages, one for the group proper and the second for its media apparatus, al-Qairawan Media Foundation (QMF). Since April, when AST announced its presence online, the number of its postings has grown each month, as has its number of “friends.”

AST’s largest advocacy project has been raising awareness of the plight of Muslim prisoners, most notably Tunisians who fought with al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) during its height in 2005-2007 and remain in Iraqi jails. The group has also demanded the release of Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, the blind religious leader of Egypt’s al-Gamaa al-Islamiyah who was convicted and imprisoned in the United States for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and Abu Qatadah al-Filastini, al-Qaeda’s European spiritual leader currently serving time in Britain. In addition to holding peaceful sit-ins outside the Iraqi embassy in Tunis, AST has demonstrated in front of the Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to call for the release of a handful of its “brothers.”

The group also reveres Yosri bin Fakher Trigui (a.k.a. Abu Qadamah al-Tunisi), who was captured in Iraq in 2006 and executed last month for his role in the bombing of the Shiite tombs at Marqad al-Imamain al-Hadi and al-Askari. In fact, AST’s media outlet portrays him as a martyr, creating Photoshopped images of him overlaid with symbols glorifying his death, including the logo of the “Islamic State of Iraq,” AQI’s successor group. Additionally, AST’s Facebook page posted a music video placing Trigui among two other illustrious “martyrs,” Usama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. And when his body was returned to Tunisia on November 23, the group played a prominent role in the funeral, which was attended by more than a thousand people, many of whom carried banners and placards with Islamic slogans. In a further indication of Trigui’s status, the premier online jihadist forum Shamukh al-Islam featured custom photos extolling his “martyrdom” on its front page for two weeks.

Against the Elections

Unlike the Salafi groups in Egypt that have decided to take part in elections, AST is far more doctrinal and purist in its interpretation of the Quran. As such, it opposes engaging in parliamentary politics and has not established a legal party. Indeed, in the lead-up to last month’s elections, it distributed literature warning Tunisians against voting, which it depicted as an infringement on God’s sovereignty. For example, one of the brochures, “The Idol of Democracy,” implicitly referred to engagement in democracy as a polytheistic act. And the day before the vote, AST wrote a stern warning to Islamists participating in the election, declaring that they would regret their actions on the Day of Resurrection.

In addition, the group tried to deter potential voters by reposting fatwas and videos from popular Salafi-jihadist sheikhs arguing against democracy. For example, it highlighted an edict by Sheikh Abu al-Mundher al-Shanqiti — a member of the sharia committee of Menbar al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad (The Pulpit of Monotheism and Jihad), the premier online resource for Salafi-jihadist intellectual materials — proclaiming the un-Islamic character of democratic elections. It also highlighted Shanqiti’s fatwa against Ennahda, characterizing the Islamist party’s program as a violation of tawhid (monotheism), describing its secretary-general Rachid Ghannouchi and his “ilk” as heretics, and declaring that Ennahda’s positions on jihad, dhimmis (protected peoples e.g., Christians and Jews), kuffar (infidels), women, and music all “pollute” Islam.

Nonviolent Jihadists?

Although AST has not engaged in violence, it clearly sympathizes with al-Qaeda’s worldview. In addition to posting content from al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and prominent online adherents such as Hani al-Sibai, the group has also explicitly promoted the terrorist network’s jihadist cause. For example, during last month’s Eid al-Adha holiday, AST released a statement congratulating the “mujahedin” of the Afghan Taliban, the Islamic State of Iraq, the Caucasus Emirate, the Islamic Maghreb Emirate, and “loved ones” in Somalia. The group also asked God “to grant victory to the mujahedin, raise the word of Islam, and bring together Muslims and rout the enemies of Islam, like the Jews, Christians, atheists, and apostates.”

Indeed, AST’s program is similar to those of al-Muhajiroun in Britain and Revolution Muslim in the United States, insofar as they promote a radical interpretation of Islam without explicitly endorsing violence. Yet actions such as attacking secular students and taking the dean of the University of Manouba hostage on November 28 for banning the veil suggest that Tunisia’s Salafis are becoming more brazen in their attempts to change the country. In the coming months, then, the new government will need to begin the process of containing Salafism alongside the tasks of writing the new constitution and reviving the economy. Left unchecked, Salafist trends could destabilize the nascent transition from authoritarianism to democracy.

For Washington, this challenge provides an opportunity to engage Tunis on security and deradicalization in the context of a democratic Arab state. It also provides a good barometer for determining the extent to which Ennahda is willing and able to transform into a truly moderate Islamic political party.

In the aftermath of the “Arab Spring,” many analysts proclaimed that it was the death knell of al-Qa`ida and its ideology, while others warned that it would open space for al-Qa`ida to exploit and even potentially take over a government similar to the 1979 Iranian Revolution. These two narratives miss the point. Indeed, jihadist ideology has been marginalized and has opened space for other schools of thought to counterbalance it. Yet, at the same time, in societies such as Tunisia where religion has been suppressed at the hands of a dictatorial government, it has created new opportunities for individuals to organize at the local level, including non-violent political Salafists who sympathize with intellectual aspects of jihadist ideology.

One such Salafist group is known as Ansar al-Shari`a in Tunisia (AST), and its media outlet al-Qayrawan Media Foundation (QMF). It is not clear whether AST was organized prior to the fall of former Tunisian President Ben Ali’s regime, but if it existed beforehand it would have been highly covert due to the repressive environment under the previous government. Regardless, since April 2011 the group’s activities are increasingly public, holding rallies and even creating Facebook pages. AST has garnered the attention of online jihadists at Ansar al-Mujahidin and al-Jahad al-`Alami, two of the most popular Arabic-language jihadist forums.

This article chronicles the rise of AST, showing how the group is a product of the new openness in Tunisian society as well as the liberation of the “public square” in the Arab world as a whole. This new commons has featured a rise in Salafist movements, creating challenges for Western states that want to establish diplomatic relations with new actors in transitioning Arab societies.

To navigate the maze of new actors, it is crucial for Western governments to go beyond understanding the old Islamist parties linked to the Muslim Brotherhood (as well as the secular and liberal trends), but also the growing prominence and broader trend of Salafist movements in Tunisia and the Arab world.

Read the rest here.