Subsequent Question for Tunisia: The Role of Islam in Politics

Next Question for Tunisia: The Role of Islam in Politics

By THOMAS FULLER



TUNIS - The Tunisian revolution that overthrew decades of authoritarian rule has entered a delicate new phase in current days more than the role of Islam in politics. Tensions mounted right here final week when military helicopters and security forces were named in to carry out an unusual mission: protecting the city’s brothels from a mob of zealots.

Police officers dispersed a group of rock-throwing protesters who streamed into a warren of alleyways lined with legally sanctioned bordellos shouting, “God is fantastic!” and “No to brothels inside a Muslim nation!”

Five weeks right after protesters forced out the country’s dictator, President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisians are locked inside a fierce and noisy debate about how far, or even whether or not, Islamism should be infused in to the new government.

About 98 percent of the population of ten million is Muslim, but Tunisia’s liberal social policies and Western way of life shatter stereotypes from the Arab globe. Abortion is legal, polygamy is banned and females typically wear bikinis on the country’s Mediterranean beaches. Wine is openly sold in supermarkets and imbibed at bars across the nation.

Women’s groups say they may be concerned that within the cacophonous aftermath from the revolution, conservative forces could tug the nation away from its strict tradition of secularism.

“Nothing is irreversible,” said Khadija Cherif, a former head of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Girls, a feminist organization. “We don’t wish to let down our guard.”

Ms. Cherif was one of thousands of Tunisians who marched by way of Tunis, the capital, on Saturday demanding the separation of mosque and state in one of the biggest demonstrations since the overthrow of Mr. Ben Ali.

Protesters held up signs saying, “Politics ruins religion and religion ruins politics.”

They have been also mourning the killing on Friday of a Polish priest by unknown attackers. That assault was also condemned by the country’s major Muslim political movement, Ennahdha, or Renaissance, which was banned beneath Mr. Ben Ali’s dictatorship but is now regrouping.

In interviews within the Tunisian news media, Ennahdha’s leaders have taken pains to praise tolerance and moderation, comparing themselves to the Islamic parties that govern Turkey and Malaysia.

“We know we have an basically fragile economy that is certainly quite open toward the outside globe, towards the point of becoming completely dependent on it,” Hamadi Jebali, the party’s secretary basic, said in an interview together with the Tunisian magazine Réalités. “We have no interest whatsoever in throwing every little thing away today or tomorrow.”

The party, which is allied with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, says it opposes the imposition of Islamic law in Tunisia.

But some Tunisians say they stay unconvinced.

Raja Mansour, a bank employee in Tunis, said it was too early to tell how the Islamist movement would evolve.

“We don’t know if they may be a real threat or not,” she stated. “But the very best defense would be to attack.” By this she meant that secularists really should assert themselves, she stated.

Ennahdha is one of the few organized movements inside a highly fractured political landscape. The caretaker government that has managed the country given that Mr. Ben Ali was ousted is fragile and weak, with no clear leadership emerging from the revolution.

The unanimity of the protest motion against Mr. Ben Ali in January, the uprising that set off demonstrations across the Arab world, has considering that evolved into several everyday protests by competing groups, a advancement that several Tunisians discover unsettling.

“Freedom is often a great, fantastic adventure, but it’s not without risks,” said Fathi Ben Haj Yathia, an author and former political prisoner. “There are a lot of unknowns.”

One of the largest demonstrations because Mr. Ben Ali fled took location on Sunday in Tunis, where several thousand protesters marched towards the prime minister’s office to demand the caretaker government’s resignation. They accused it of acquiring hyperlinks to Mr. Ben Ali’s government.

Tunisians are debating the long term of their nation on the streets. Avenue Habib Bourguiba, the broad thoroughfare in central Tunis named after the country’s 1st president, resembles a Roman forum on weekends, packed with people of all ages excitedly discussing politics.

The freewheeling and somewhat chaotic atmosphere across the country continues to be accompanied by a breakdown in security that continues to be specifically unsettling for ladies. With all the substantial security apparatus of the old government decimated, leaving the police force in disarray, numerous women now say they are afraid to walk outside alone at night.

Achouri Thouraya, a 29-year-old graphic artist, says she has mixed feelings toward the revolution.

She shared in the joy of the overthrow of what she described as Mr. Ben Ali’s kleptocratic government. But she also says she believes that the government’s crackdown on any Muslim groups it considered extremist, a draconian police program that included monitoring these who prayed on a regular basis, helped safeguard the rights of ladies.

“We had the freedom to reside our lives like women in Europe,” she stated.

But now Ms. Thouraya stated she was a “little scared.”

She added, “We don’t know who will likely be president and what attitudes he may have toward women.”

Mounir Troudi, a jazz musician, disagrees. He has no love for the former Ben Ali government, but stated he believed that Tunisia would remain a land of beer and bikinis.

“This can be a maritime country,” Mr. Troudi stated. “We are sailors, and we’ve often been open towards the outside world. I’ve self-confidence in the Tunisian individuals. It’s not a country of fanatics.”

Notes

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