Islamists criticise Olympic champions
By Monia Ghanmi for Magharebia in Tunis – 16/08/12
Islamic extremist groups in Tunisia are criticising the nation's Olympic champions for their alleged non-observance of religious values while competing in the London Games.
The sport attire of Habiba Ghribi - the first Tunisian woman to ever earn an Olympic medal - sparked accusations of "evil and immorality".
Islamist groups attacked the 3000m steeplechase silver medallist on Facebook, with one page calling for the revocation of her Tunisian citizenship because, in the words of the extremists, she did not honour the country and harms Tunisian Muslim women.
"Tunisia has no need for the medals brought by topless uncovered women. We are all for revoking the Tunisian citizenship of one who exposed Tunisia to her evil and immorality," they wrote.
But in response to the firestorm, Constituent Assembly deputy Ibrahim Kassas, a member of the independent Al-Aridha party, said that "the underpants of Habiba Ghribi have honoured us."
"What have [Ennahda MPs'] underpants done for us?" Kassas joked during a Tuesday radio debate with Ennahda MP Farida Labidi.
In the midst of this, the Tunisian street was split between those supporting and those rejecting the appearance of Ghribi during the Olympics. Some felt the criticisms of the Islamists had their place, while others defended the freedom of women in dress and exercise.
Sofia Bouassida saw in Ghribi's dress a violation of the principles and dignity of Tunisian women and an obliteration of the nation's identity.
"It is true that dress is a personal matter, but if it pertains to representing the country in an international athletic demonstration, athletes should respect the customs of this country and the values of its religion," she commented. "So far as the Tunisian runner, she should have worn modest clothes in line with her country's identity, and I do not imagine it would keep her from winning the medal."
On the other hand, Souha Naouali contended that athletic dress remains a secondary need because it is a matter of personal freedom concerning the athlete alone in which there must be no interference in the face of the results and efforts put forth.
"The athlete should not be held accountable for the way she dresses. On the other hand, there must be demand for results. And in this Olympics, Ghribi represented the best representation of her country, and this is what is required," Naouali said.
For her part, Ghribi defended her athletic attire in a televised interview.
"The runner's sports uniform helps us run and jump," Ghribi said. "I do not think this is important and worth all this debate before the coronation which I brought while bearing the nation's flag."
Meanwhile, 2-time Olympic gold medal swimmer Oussama Mellouli was subjected to a similar campaign of criticism,
The Tunisian drank water after winning the 10km race. The incident infuriated Islamists, who considered breaking the fast in public an abuse of the holy month of Ramadan and the Islamic religion.
On Facebook, the group Ansar al-Sharia in Kairouan labelled Mellouli an "infidel heretic" for breaking the fast. "We do not need the medal, for which the Islamic nation is laughing at us," the extremists wrote.
As punishment, this Islamic militant group called for killing the Olympic gold medallist.
"You are a disgrace to Tunisia, and killing you is a Sharia duty because we do not accept humiliation," Ansar al-Sharia said.
The on-going debate only added to fears about the possibility of Islamists restricting personal freedoms.
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