Voices from Tunisia
I'd like to focus now on some positive things.
TUNISIA has been a heartening wellspring of open discussion lately.
Tunisian Reformist Intellectual: Al-Jazeera TV - A Mouthpiece of the Muslim Brotherhood
In an article posted July 29, 2006 on the reformist website Elaph, Tunisian intellectual Dr. Khaled Shawkat, director of the Netherlands-based Center for Promoting Democracy in the Arab World, attacked Al-Jazeera TV because, he says, 'it has become the mouthpiece of the Muslim Brotherhood.'
Tunisian Philosopher Mezri Haddad: Islamists "Have Reduced the Koran to a Nauseating Antisemitic Lampoon"
In a blog entry, Tunisian philosopher Mezri Haddad attacked the Muslim world's tolerant attitude toward the antisemitism of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; stated that there was no such thing as a moderate Islamist; and suggested that Muslims reinterpret potentially anti-Jewish Koranic passages, as the Vatican had done with similar passages in the New Testament.
Tunisian Feminist Fawzia Zouari on 50th Anniversary of Tunis's Personal Status Code: "In Tunisia, Women Have Become Just Like Any Other Man"
"I am Proud to Be a Tunisian, Proud of Having Turned my Back on Centuries of Dark Harems"
... I feel far away from my Arab 'sisters.' I say this frankly and without evasion. I am proud to be a Tunisian. Proud of having turned my back on centuries of dark harems and oppressive cousins. Proud of not traveling with a passport stamped with the expressions 'First wife,' 'Nth wife.' Proud of no longer expending my energy on trying to evade the vigilance of the men and on trying to steal a few crumbs of liberty. Proud, above all, of having the law on my side."This is indeed the great achievement of the Tunisian woman: a law that protects her against male arbitrariness and recognizes her as a full-fledged person."While it is true that other women in the Arab world have many rights, they lack laws [that allow them] to say it. While it is incontestable that they have made their entrance into the public arena, one fears that this presence is a mere façade. I, as a Tunisian, am wary of attenuated liberties and window-dressing."
UPDATE: The War Over the Veil in Tunisia
Jack Straw described the veil as "a visible statement of separation and difference"; in the ensuing controversy, British Prime Minister Tony Blair lent his support to Straw and made similar comments. In a related development, a teaching assistant in the U.K., Aisha Azmi, was suspended for refusing to remove her veil when teaching.
However, the most divisive controversy erupted not in Europe, but in TUNISIA, where the government launched a campaign to implement "Decree 108," first issued in 1981, which forbids not only the full veil (niqab) in public places, but also the less restrictive head covering (hijab). The controversy began with the state-controlled Tunisian media reporting statements by President Zin Al-'Abidin Ben 'Ali and his ministers against the head covering, in which they called it an "imported form of sectarian dress" - a reference to the growing influence of Saudi-style Wahhabism in North Africa.
At the same time, the Islamist opposition - in particular the banned Al-Nadha movement, the main Tunisian Islamist group - reported on a "Ramadan offensive" against women wearing the head covering, saying they were being forced to remove their head coverings and prevented from entering public institutions and universities. These actions sparked a wave of petitions against the government's activities -from both Islamists and some of the non-Islamist opposition. In addition, prominent sheikhs - among them Egypt Mufti 'Ali Jum'a, Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, and Abu Basir Al-Tartusi - spoke out against the Tunisian government. Al-Tartusi, an influential Salafi authority, even issued a fatwa urging Tunisians to overthrow their government.
The controversy has also led to a diplomatic crisis between TUNISIA and QATAR. On October 19, 2006, the London daily Al-Quds Al-'Arabi reported that the Tunisian government had closed its embassy in Doha to protest against a program aired on the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera TV that had hosted guests critical of the government's policies on the head covering. The next day, the London daily Al-Hayat reported that the Tunisian ambassador to Qatar had been called home for consultation.
In a related development, the debate over the veil also erupted in EGYPT after the president of Helwan University in Cairo, 'Abd Al-Hay Ebaid, refused to allow veiled women to enter university grounds. While the incident itself was minor in comparison with events in Tunisia - and concerned only the full veil, and not the hijab - it was nevertheless widely discussed in the Egyptian press. Coming against the backdrop of the controversies in England and Tunisia, it reawakened the debate on women's place in society, Islam and modernity, and the role of Saudi Wahhabism in the erosion of Egypt's indigenous Islamic practices.