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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 more than 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 excellent!” 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 inside a fierce and noisy debate about how far, or even whether or not, Islamism needs to 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 life-style shatter stereotypes with the Arab globe. Abortion is legal, polygamy is banned and females generally 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 inside the cacophonous aftermath of the revolution, conservative forces could tug the nation away from its strict tradition of secularism.

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

Ms. Cherif was a single of thousands of Tunisians who marched through Tunis, the capital, on Saturday demanding the separation of mosque and state in one of many biggest demonstrations because the overthrow of Mr. Ben Ali.

Protesters held up signs 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 principal Muslim political motion, Ennahdha, or Renaissance, which was banned under Mr. Ben Ali’s dictatorship but is now regrouping.

In interviews inside 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 essentially fragile economy that is quite open toward the outside world, for the point of becoming entirely dependent on it,” Hamadi Jebali, the party’s secretary general, mentioned in an interview using the Tunisian magazine Réalités. “We have no interest whatsoever in throwing every thing away today 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 remain unconvinced.

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

“We do not know if they’re a actual threat or not,” she mentioned. “But the most effective defense is always to attack.” By this she meant that secularists really should assert themselves, she mentioned.

Ennahdha is among the few organized movements in a very fractured political landscape. The caretaker government that has managed the nation because 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 world, has considering that evolved into numerous daily protests by competing groups, a advancement that many Tunisians uncover unsettling.

“Freedom is often a excellent, fantastic adventure, but it is not with no dangers,” stated Fathi Ben Haj Yathia, an author and former political prisoner. “There are several unknowns.”

Among the largest demonstrations since Mr. Ben Ali fled took location on Sunday in Tunis, exactly where several thousand protesters marched for the prime minister’s workplace to demand the caretaker government’s resignation. They accused it of possessing links 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 following the country’s 1st 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 particularly unsettling for women. Together with the substantial security apparatus from the old government decimated, leaving the police force in disarray, numerous girls 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 with 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 system that included monitoring those who prayed regularly, helped safeguard the rights of females.

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

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

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

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

“This is really a maritime nation,” Mr. Troudi mentioned. “We are sailors, and we’ve often been open for the outside globe. I have self-confidence in the Tunisian people. It is not a nation of fanatics.”