February 23, 2011 at 2:00am

Next Question for Tunisia: The Role of Islam in Politics

Subsequent Question for Tunisia: The Role of Islam in Politics


TUNIS - The Tunisian revolution that overthrew decades of authoritarian rule has entered a delicate new phase in recent days more than the role of Islam in politics. Tensions mounted right here final week when military helicopters and security forces had been called 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 in a fierce and noisy debate about how far, or even no matter 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 way of life shatter stereotypes of the Arab planet. Abortion is legal, polygamy is banned and girls typically 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 are concerned that in the cacophonous aftermath with the revolution, conservative forces could tug the nation away from its strict tradition of secularism.

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

Ms. Cherif was one of a large number 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 because the overthrow of Mr. Ben Ali.

Protesters held up indicators 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 main Muslim political motion, Ennahdha, or Renaissance, which was banned underneath 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 to the Islamic parties that govern Turkey and Malaysia.

“We know we have an basically fragile economic system that is extremely open toward the outside world, for the point of getting entirely dependent on it,” Hamadi Jebali, the party’s secretary common, mentioned in an interview using the Tunisian magazine Réalités. “We have no interest whatsoever in throwing every thing away these days or tomorrow.”

The celebration, 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 tell how the Islamist motion would evolve.

“We really don’t know if they are a genuine threat or not,” she mentioned. “But the most beneficial defense is to attack.” By this she meant that secularists really should assert themselves, she stated.

Ennahdha is one of the couple of organized movements inside 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 with the protest motion against Mr. Ben Ali in January, the uprising that set off demonstrations across the Arab globe, has because evolved into numerous everyday protests by competing groups, a development that numerous Tunisians discover unsettling.

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

Among the largest demonstrations since Mr. Ben Ali fled took place on Sunday in Tunis, exactly where a number of thousand protesters marched for the prime minister’s workplace to demand the caretaker government’s resignation. They accused it of acquiring links 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 1st president, resembles a Roman forum on weekends, packed with men and women of all ages excitedly discussing politics.

The freewheeling and somewhat chaotic atmosphere across the nation 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, a lot of 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 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 deemed extremist, a draconian police program that included monitoring those who prayed often, helped shield the rights of ladies.

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

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

She added, “We really don’t know who is going to be president and what attitudes he may have toward females.”

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 said. “We are sailors, and we’ve often been open for the outside globe. I have self-confidence inside the Tunisian men and women. It’s not a country of fanatics.”


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