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 recent days over the role of Islam in politics. Tensions mounted here last week when military helicopters and security forces had been referred to 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 country!”

Five weeks right after protesters forced out the country’s dictator, President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisians are locked in a fierce and noisy debate about how far, or even regardless of whether, Islamism needs to be infused in to the new government.

About 98 percent with the population of ten million is Muslim, but Tunisia’s liberal social policies and Western life-style shatter stereotypes with the Arab globe. Abortion is legal, polygamy is banned and ladies frequently 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 country away from its strict tradition of secularism.

“Nothing is irreversible,” said 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 of thousands of Tunisians who marched via Tunis, the capital, on Saturday demanding the separation of mosque and state in one of the largest demonstrations since the overthrow of Mr. Ben Ali.

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

They had 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 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 towards the Islamic parties that govern Turkey and Malaysia.

“We know we have an basically fragile economy that is extremely open toward the outside globe, for the point of getting entirely dependent on it,” Hamadi Jebali, the party’s secretary common, mentioned in an interview with all the Tunisian magazine Réalités. “We have no interest whatsoever in throwing every thing away right now 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, stated it was too early to inform how the Islamist motion would evolve.

“We don’t know if they’re a actual threat or not,” she said. “But the most effective defense would be to attack.” By this she meant that secularists need to assert themselves, she said.

Ennahdha is among the few organized movements in a extremely 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 from the protest movement against Mr. Ben Ali in January, the uprising that set off demonstrations across the Arab globe, has given that evolved into numerous day-to-day protests by competing groups, a advancement that numerous Tunisians locate unsettling.

“Freedom can be a excellent, excellent adventure, but it’s not without having risks,” said Fathi Ben Haj Yathia, an author and former political prisoner. “There are many unknowns.”

One of many biggest demonstrations given that Mr. Ben Ali fled took location on Sunday in Tunis, exactly where a number of thousand protesters marched for the prime minister’s office to demand the caretaker government’s resignation. They accused it of acquiring links to Mr. Ben Ali’s government.

Tunisians are debating the future of their nation on the streets. Avenue Habib Bourguiba, the broad thoroughfare in central Tunis named soon after the country’s very first 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 especially unsettling for ladies. Together with the extensive security apparatus of the old government decimated, leaving the police force in disarray, several girls now say they’re afraid to walk outside alone at evening.

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 regarded as extremist, a draconian police system that included monitoring those who prayed regularly, helped defend the rights of ladies.

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

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

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

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

“This is often a maritime country,” Mr. Troudi stated. “We are sailors, and we’ve usually been open to the outside world. I’ve self-confidence in the Tunisian men and women. It’s not a country of fanatics.”