Tunisians fear rights backslide
By Monia Ghanmi for Magharebia in Tunis – 11/04/11
For many Tunisians, a shift towards a more traditional culture is at odds with the country's recent history. They fear the gains of the revolution could be lost.
At an April 1st protest in Tunis, organised in part by the Islamic Liberation Party, some demonstrators called for imposing the niqab on women and requiring them to stay at home.
"It's really alarming," student Amal Arifi said. "I see them everywhere with their strange clothes and preference for isolation rather than mixing with others even in universities. It's true that they are peaceful, but the prejudice they are exercising against women has made me feel somewhat uncomfortable about them."
In response, the Tunisian interior ministry on Thursday (April 7th) banned prayers on streets and public squares, urging worshippers to avoid blocking thoroughfares. The religious affairs ministry also said it was relying on the understanding of Tunisians to combat the phenomenon.
Tunisians have always been known for their moderation and support for free speech and respect for religious freedom, said Najet Hammemi, a religious affairs ministry official. She added that the ministry was keen on adopting a moderate religious discourse at mosques involving tolerance and acceptance of the other.
"In my opinion, it's important for the current government to show greater firmness in dealing with the forces that attract us backwards," said Sofiene Chourabi, a member of the High Commission for the Realisation of Revolutionary Goals, Political Reforms and Democratic Transition. "It's also necessary to take strict measures against those who violate personal freedoms and try to impose their religious interpretations and readings on the society. Tunisians have always been characterised by their tolerance, and they are supposed to remain as such."
Although the revolution gave Sourour Ben Atia the freedom to wear the veil in public, she didn't see a justification for calls to restrict women's role to the home.
"These calls can't be put under the name of enforcement of the rules of Islam which gave freedom to women, who have always been an effective element in society," Ben Atia said.
As for the call to impose the veil or niqab, Boutheina Majdoub said: "Dress is a personal matter and lies under women's individual freedom. No one whosoever has the right to intervene in it by banning it or forcing others to wear it."
"This doesn't mean that we're against Islam, but we're against these practices that take religion as a cover to pass on their ideas and manipulate women's rights," she added.
Warda Louati told Magharebia that these forces, which she described as obscurantist, now pose a real threat to women's gains. "Therefore, Tunisian women are called today to be vigilant and careful, to take the initiative in their own hands, protect their own rights and defend their freedom with all due courage away from any party or ideological tutelage," she said.
The Tunisian revolution was not a revolution against religion or women but was against injustice and oppression, Rim Zorgani said. She added that the aim today was not to exclude women from social life, but to establish a real democratic system that gives the Tunisian people the right to vote for whosoever they want.
"We support freedom of expression," she said. "Therefore, they have the right to say whatever they want, and the Tunisian women, who are benefiting from the personal status law, will respond to these currents in a civilised way during the election."
Subscribe to our newsletter and get Magharebia's latest articles delivered to your inbox.