Next Question for Tunisia: The Role of Islam in Politics

Subsequent 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 had 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 great!” 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, Islamism must be infused in to the new government.

About 98 percent of the population of 10 million is Muslim, but Tunisia’s liberal social policies and Western lifestyle shatter stereotypes with the Arab planet. Abortion is legal, polygamy is banned and ladies typically put on 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’re concerned that in the cacophonous aftermath of the revolution, conservative forces could tug the country away from its strict tradition of secularism.

“Nothing is irreversible,” stated Khadija Cherif, a former head of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women, a feminist organization. “We do not desire to let down our guard.”

Ms. Cherif was one particular of thousands of Tunisians who marched by way of Tunis, the capital, on Saturday demanding the separation of mosque and state in one of many largest 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 main Muslim political movement, Ennahdha, or Renaissance, which was banned under 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 towards the Islamic parties that govern Turkey and Malaysia.

“We know we have an essentially fragile economic system that is certainly quite open toward the outside globe, for the point of becoming entirely dependent on it,” Hamadi Jebali, the party’s secretary common, mentioned in an interview together with the Tunisian magazine Réalités. “We have no interest whatsoever in throwing everything 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 remain unconvinced.

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

“We do not know if they are a genuine threat or not,” she stated. “But the best defense is to attack.” By this she meant that secularists really should assert themselves, she said.

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

The unanimity with the protest movement against Mr. Ben Ali in January, the uprising that set off demonstrations across the Arab world, has considering that evolved into several every day protests by competing groups, a development that several Tunisians discover unsettling.

“Freedom is really a wonderful, great adventure, but it’s not without dangers,” stated Fathi Ben Haj Yathia, an author and former political prisoner. “There are many unknowns.”

Among the largest demonstrations since Mr. Ben Ali fled took location on Sunday in Tunis, exactly where many thousand protesters marched for the prime minister’s office to demand the caretaker government’s resignation. They accused it of having hyperlinks to Mr. Ben Ali’s government.

Tunisians are debating the future of their country on the streets. Avenue Habib Bourguiba, the broad thoroughfare in central Tunis named soon after the country’s initial president, resembles a Roman forum on weekends, packed with folks of all ages excitedly discussing politics.

The freewheeling and somewhat chaotic atmosphere across the country has been accompanied by a breakdown in security that continues to be especially unsettling for girls. With the extensive security apparatus of the old government decimated, leaving the police force in disarray, numerous females 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 inside 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 plan that included monitoring these who prayed on a regular basis, helped shield the rights of women.

“We had the freedom to live our lives like females in Europe,” she said.

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

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

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

“This can be a maritime nation,” Mr. Troudi stated. “We are sailors, and we’ve often been open towards the outside planet. I’ve confidence in the Tunisian men and women. It is not a nation of fanatics.”