May 29 2011
There is growing concern that Tunisia, launch pad for the so-called ‘Arab Spring,’ will also be the first country to see radical Islamists taking significant political power. Women are terrified about losing their rights and being forced to wear a veil.
UK TELEGRAPH – With elections for a body to draw up the constitution due in just eight weeks’ time, Ennahda, according to opinion polls, will be the largest single party, with around 30 per cent of the vote, giving it a pivotal role in shaping the new Tunisia. Mokhtar Trifi, head of the country’s human rights league, says that manifestations of Islamic radicalism – forced veiling, forced prayer, and condemnations for apostasy – are rising, too, all over the country.
Rachid Ghannouchi and about 70 other exiled members of Ennahdha, or Renaissance, flew home from Britain two weeks after autocratic President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was forced from power by violent protests. Ghannouchi took up a megaphone to address the crowd outside the airport, but his voice was drowned out by shrill ululating cries and shouts of “God is great!”
It’s not that Tunisia is conservative: under the dictatorship, political repression went hand in hand with social modernity. Women’s rights are among the most advanced in the Arab world. Alcohol is freely available, divorce is easier than in some parts of the EU and thousands of half-naked Western tourists line the coast every summer.
By the standards of the region, Tunisia is highly developed. With its boulevards and cafes, its trams and shopping centres, Tunis, the capital, looks like a dustier Marseille. But Ennahda draws support from the less prosperous interior.
Many Tunisians simply do not trust the Ennahda party. “There’s one message in the media and another in the mosques, where they are doing a big campaign. There they say that Islam is a package, you have to take the whole package. For politicians to say that, that’s very dangerous.”
Halima Jouini, of the Association of Democratic Women, says: “They never talk about human rights for women. They never talk about the rates of unemployment among women, only the numbers of women who are left unmarried.”
Though Ennahda has been largely peaceful, its members did carry out a few terrorist attacks in the 1980s and 1990s.
Abdelfatah Mouro, one of its leaders, called on the party to take “a firm position” on opposition to violence. He was promptly thrown out.
At the Cannes Film Festival this month, Nouri Bouzid, the celebrated director and opponent of Islamist extremism, received the Legion d’Honneur, the highest award France can bestow. A few weeks before that, in his native Tunisia, came a rather different form of recognition: he was stabbed in the head.
“The attack might have been triggered by an angry reaction to my pro-secular stands and rejection of [extremist Islamic] culture,” said Bouzid, who appeared on Tunisian television at the time with a large bloodied gash above his left ear.
“This could be the start of [their] campaign against signs of creativity in our country that don’t agree with their ideas.”
At an April 17 rally organised by Ennahda, Tunisia’s largest Islamist party, a speaker called for Bouzid to be “shot with a Kalashnikov”. The audience, which included a senior Ennahda leader, responded with cries of “Allahu Akbar”.