Next 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 latest days over the role of Islam in politics. Tensions mounted right here last week when military helicopters and security forces have been known as 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 excellent!” and “No to brothels inside a Muslim country!”

Five weeks following 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 regardless of whether, Islamism must be infused into the new government.

About 98 % of the population of ten million is Muslim, but Tunisia’s liberal social policies and Western way of life shatter stereotypes with the Arab world. Abortion is legal, polygamy is banned and women commonly put on bikinis on the country’s Mediterranean beaches. Wine is openly sold in supermarkets and imbibed at bars across the country.

Women’s groups say they’re 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,” mentioned Khadija Cherif, a former head from the Tunisian Association of Democratic Girls, a feminist organization. “We do not desire to let down our guard.”

Ms. Cherif was one of a large number of Tunisians who marched through Tunis, the capital, on Saturday demanding the separation of mosque and state in among the largest demonstrations because the overthrow of Mr. Ben Ali.

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

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

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

“We know we have an basically fragile economy that is extremely open toward the outside world, towards the point of being completely dependent on it,” Hamadi Jebali, the party’s secretary general, mentioned in an interview together with the Tunisian magazine Réalités. “We have no interest whatsoever in throwing everything away nowadays 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 really don’t know if they are a real threat or not,” she said. “But the very best defense is usually to attack.” By this she meant that secularists ought to assert themselves, she stated.

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

The unanimity of the protest movement against Mr. Ben Ali in January, the uprising that set off demonstrations across the Arab planet, has since evolved into several everyday protests by competing groups, a improvement that a lot of Tunisians discover unsettling.

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

One of many biggest demonstrations given that Mr. Ben Ali fled took place on Sunday in Tunis, exactly where a number of thousand protesters marched towards the prime minister’s workplace to demand the caretaker government’s resignation. They accused it of getting 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 right after the country’s very first president, resembles a Roman forum on weekends, packed with folks of all ages excitedly discussing politics.

The freewheeling and somewhat chaotic atmosphere across the nation has been accompanied by a breakdown in security that has been particularly unsettling for women. With the extensive security apparatus from the old government decimated, leaving the police force in disarray, numerous females now say they’re 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 from 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 thought to be extremist, a draconian police plan that included monitoring these who prayed frequently, helped shield the rights of girls.

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

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

She added, “We do not know who will be president and what attitudes he will have toward ladies.”

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

“This can be a maritime country,” Mr. Troudi stated. “We are sailors, and we’ve usually been open towards the outside planet. I’ve confidence inside the Tunisian people. It is not a country of fanatics.”

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