Islamic Extremists Alarm Secular Women in Tunisia #Vaw #Womenrights


By Hajer Naili

WeNews correspondent

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Tensions are rising between secular Tunisian women and political Islam. “There is no room for the opposition and women to participate in building the country we want,” says one critic.

Woman at a protest in Tunis, Tunisia.
Woman at a protest in Tunis, Tunisia.

 

Credit: Amine Ghrabi on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0).

(WOMENSENEWS)–“My body is mine, not somebody’s honor.”

Nineteen-year-old Tunisian feminist Amina Tyler wrote these words in Arabic across her breasts and stomach to defy growing Islamism in her country, and then posted topless pictures of herself on the Facebook page of the organization Femen Tunisia.

The images went viral on March 8, International Women’s Day, and unleashed a month of online debate and some calls by Islamic extremists for her to be stoned to death. Tyler went into retreat but last week broke her silence in an interview with the French magazine Marianne.

“My family accepts me, but not my action,” she is quoted as saying in the magazine. “I am tired, I am being given anti-depressants . . . I want to go back to school, I don’t feel free. I want to be free to call my friends again, to go on the Internet.”

Femen and other feminists called for April 4 to be “International Topless Jihad Day,” as it coincides with Tyler’s birthday, the French newspaper Liberation reported.

Tyler is an extreme example, but tensions between secular women and political Islam are growing inTunisia, the birthplace of the Arab uprisings.

On Feb. 6, the high-profile secular Tunisian politician Chokri Belaid was killed in what authorities said was an assassination by Salafi Islamist militants. The slaying collapsed the government of Hamadi Jebali, of the ruling moderate Islamist party Ennahda.

The new government, also led by Ennahda, expresses no outright intention to rule the country according to Sharia, or religious law. But its ability or willingness to control a minority of Salafists who want to impose Sharia and create an Islamic state by violent means if necessary is in doubt.

“There is a pressing problem of insecurity in Tunisia with the birth of militia and armed Salafists who attack people without hearing any reaction from the government,” said Saida Rached, secretary general of theTunisian Association of Democratic Women, a group that was banned under the ousted regime of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. “Tunisians are starting to suspect the current regime and especially the Ministry of Interior of complicity.”

Increased Fear

Because of the insecurity “women are afraid to go out,” Rached added, recalling a few incidents in which violent Salafists attacked people, including women, who disagreed with their ideas. Rached spoke withWomen’s eNews in March, on the sidelines of the U.N. annual meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women.

The attacks have given Salafists a violent reputation, but the majority of adherents seek to establish an Islamic state through legal means. One apolitical faction takes no interest in the modern state and devotes itself to living as much as possible as the prophet Muhammad and his followers did in the 7th century.

Although women have not lost any legal ground, Rached said they are suffering a “social regression” that began with the start of the global economic crisis in 2008 and worsened after the ousting of Ben Ali.

Islam was the religion of the state under the previous constitution adopted in 1959 and the draft version of the new constitution, now being written, reasserts that. Secularists now wonder whether the official religion will overtake state functions and international treaties that sometimes oppose the cultural norms of conservative Islam.

Last year, an article in a draft version of the constitution expressing the “complementarity” between men and women brought protesters into the streets. The word was eventually dropped and replaced by “equality.” In the latest draft of the constitution, wording about equality between the sexes appears in the preamble, Article 5, Article 7 and Article 37.

Rached draws little comfort from such concessions. “It is still the Islamist party that is in power and decides who should be ministers and how the country should be ruled,” she said “There is no room for the opposition and women to participate in building the country we want.”

On March 29 dozens of angry people in Tunis brandished shoes and demanded the resignation of Sihem Badi,the minister of women’s affairs, for her slack response to the rape of a 3-year-old girl at a nursery in a Tunis suburb. Badi said a member of the girl’s family was to blame and that no measures against the nursery were needed.

Yesterday, a no-confidence motion against Badi was submitted to the Tunisian Parliament. Seventy-eight lawmakers signed the document, exceeding the 73 signatures required for a motion to be discussed. The signatories are demanding the dismissal of Badi from the government.

Polygamy Rumors

Rumors of legalized polygamy recently spread online to the point where a lawmaker named Karima Souid felt compelled to reassure followers on her Facebook page that no such bill had been submitted to the assembly.

Public discussion of female genital mutilation is also on the rise. A few weeks ago, Habib Ellouze, an Ennahda member, sparked outrage after he stated in a newspaper interview that female genital mutilation is “an aesthetic surgery.” The president of the Islamist party Ennahda, Rached Ghannouchi, expressed his disapproval for such a practice and was quoted in press accounts as saying that it “goes against Islam and that doesn’t belong to the Tunisian culture.”

There is no legal ban on female genital mutilation in Tunisia and the practice is uncommon. Article 17 in the draft of the constitution says “the state shall guarantee the physical and moral sanctity of the human self and shall prevent all forms of physical and/or moral torture.”

“Ellouze’s remarks on the excision are disgusting,” said Sophie Bessis, a research fellow at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations in Paris, in an email interview. “FGM has never really existed in North Africa. Ellouze wants to import a barbaric practice.”

Bessis, author of the 2007 book “Arabs, Women and Freedom,” added that “Tunisia has today a government dominated by conservatives and women are paying the price of it.”

She criticized the current draft of the constitution for continuing to affirm Islam as the official religion. “This might lead to abuses and in particular depending on the interpretation of Sharia,” Bessis said.

In January, Eric Goldstein, deputy director of Human Rights Watch in the Middle East and North Africa, sent a letter to assembly members saying the latest version of the constitution “is more respectful of the freedom of expression and women’s rights than the first draft.” However, he expressed concern about provisions such as judicial immunity for the head of state, lack of sufficient guarantees for the independence of the judiciary and ambiguous formulations that could threaten rights and freedoms.

Bessis said the current draft “is not good neither for women or democracy.”

Hajer Naili is a New York-based reporter for Women’s eNews. She has worked for several radio stations and publications in France and North Africa and specializes in Middle East and North Africa.

 

Don’t Fear All Islamists, Fear Salafis


 

By ROBIN WRIGHT
Published: August 19, 2012

For Op-Ed, follow@nytopinion and to hear from the editorial page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, follow@andyrNYT.

THIS spring, I traveled to the cradle of the Arab uprisings — a forlorn street corner in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, where a street vendor, drenched in paint thinner, struck a match in December 2010 that ignited the entire Middle East. “We have far more freedoms,” one peddler hawking fruit in the same square lamented, “but far fewer jobs.” Another noted that Mohamed Bouazizi, the vendor who set himself on fire, did so not to vote in a democratic election but because harassment by local officials had cost him his livelihood.

As the peddlers vented, prayers ended at the whitewashed mosque across the street. Among the faithful were Salafis, ultraconservative Sunni Muslims vying to define the new order according to seventh-century religious traditions rather than earthly realities. For years, many Salafis — “salaf” means predecessors — had avoided politics and embraced autocrats as long as they were Muslims. But over the past eight months, clusters of worshipers across the Middle East have morphed into powerful Salafi movements that are tapping into the disillusionment and disorder of transitions.

A new Salafi Crescent, radiating from the Persian Gulf sheikdoms into the Levant and North Africa, is one of the most underappreciated and disturbing byproducts of the Arab revolts. In varying degrees, these populist puritans are moving into the political space once occupied by jihadi militants, who are now less in vogue. Both are fundamentalists who favor a new order modeled on early Islam. Salafis are not necessarily fighters, however. Many disavow violence.

In Tunisia, Salafis started the Reform Front party in May and led protests, including in Sidi Bouzid. This summer, they’ve repeatedly attacked symbols of the new freedom of speech, ransacking an art gallery and blocking Sufi musicians and political comedians from performing. In Egypt, Salafis emerged last year from obscurity, hastily formed parties, and in January won 25 percent of the seats in parliament — second only to the 84-year-old Muslim Brotherhood. Salafis are a growing influence in Syria’s rebellion. And they have parties or factions in Algeria, Bahrain, Kuwait, Libya, Yemen and amongPalestinians.

Salafis are only one slice of a rapidly evolving Islamist spectrum. The variety of Islamists in the early 21st century recalls socialism’s many shades in the 20th. Now, as then, some Islamists are more hazardous to Western interests and values than others. The Salafis are most averse to minority and women’s rights.

A common denominator among disparate Salafi groups is inspiration and support from Wahhabis, a puritanical strain of Sunni Islam from Saudi Arabia. Not all Saudis are Wahhabis. Not all Salafis are Wahhabis, either. But Wahhabis are basically all Salafis. And many Arabs, particularly outside the sparsely populated Gulf, suspect that Wahhabis are trying to seize the future by aiding and abetting the region’s newly politicized Salafis — as they did 30 years ago by funding the South Asian madrassas that produced Afghanistan’s Taliban.

Salafis go much further in restricting political and personal life than the larger and more modern Islamist parties that have won electoral pluralities in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco since October. For most Arabs, the rallying cry is justice, both economic and political. For Salafis, it is also about a virtue that is inflexible and enforceable.

“You have two choices: heaven or hellfire,” Sheikh Muhammad el-Kurdi instructed me after his election to Egypt’s parliament as a member of Al Nour, a Salafi party. It favors gender segregation in schools and offices, he told me, so that men can concentrate. “It’s O.K. for you to be in the room,” he explained. “You are our guest, and we know why you’re here. But you are one woman and we are three men — and we all want to marry you.” Marriage may have been a euphemism.

Other more modern Islamists fear the Salafi factor. “The Salafis try to push us,” said Rachid al-Ghannouchi, founder of Ennahda, the ruling Islamist party in Tunisia. The two Islamist groups there are now rivals. “Salafis are against drafting a constitution. They think it is the Koran,” grumbled Merhézia Labidi, the vice chairwoman of Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly and a member of Ennahda.

Salafis are deepening the divide between Sunni and Shiite Muslims and challenging the “Shiite Crescent,” a term coined by Jordan’s King Abdullah in 2004, during the Iraq war, to describe an arc of influence from Shiite-dominated Iran to its allies in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Today, these rival crescents risk turning countries in transition into battlefields over the region’s future.

The Salafis represent a painful long-term conundrum for the West. Their goals are the most anti-Western of any Islamist parties. They are trying to push both secularists and other Islamists into the not-always-virtuous past.

American policy recently had its own awakening after 60 years of support for autocratic rulers. The United States opted to embrace people power and electoral change in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Yemen. Yet Washington still embraces authoritarian Gulf monarchies like Saudi Arabia, tolerating their vague promises of reform and even pledging the United States’ might to protect them.

Foreign policy should be nuanced, whether because of oil needs or to counter threats from Iran. But there is something dreadfully wrong with tying America’s future position in the region to the birthplace and bastion of Salafism and its warped vision of a new order.

Robin Wright, the author of “Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World,” is a fellow at the United States Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

 

Human Rights Groups Blur Issues of Women Rights


English: 44th Munich Security Conference: The ...

Image via Wikipedia

By Meredith Tax

(WOMENSENEWS)– Salafi mobs have caned women in Tunisian cafes and Egyptian shops; attacked churches in Egypt; taken over whole villages in Tunisia and shut down that country’s Manouba University for two months in an effort to exert social pressure on veiling.

And while “moderate Islamist” leaders say they will protect the rights of women (if not gays), they have done very little to bring these mobs under control.

In this context, the support given by Kenneth Roth, head of the major U.S. organization Human Rights Watch, to Islamist parties is disturbing to say the least and shows a wider problem in the attitude of the human rights movement toward political Islam.

In his group’s 2012 World Report, Roth wrote: “It is important to nurture the rights-respecting elements of political Islam while standing firm against repression in its name,” but he failed to call for the most basic guarantee of rights–the separation of religion from the state.

His essay only once mentions the rights of women, gays, and religious minorities, almost in passing: “Many Islamic parties have indeed embraced disturbing positions that would subjugate the rights of women and restrict religious, personal, and political freedoms. But so have many of the autocratic regimes that the West props up.”

Are we really going to set the bar that low? This is the voice of an apologist, not a senior human rights advocate.

Roth’s essay is just the latest example of a crisis within the human rights movement, some of whose leaders have treated political Islamists as partners and been willing to downplay systematic violence and discrimination against women, gays and religious minorities.

Marieme Helie-Lucas is founder of Women Living Under Muslim Laws, the 20-year advocacy group with headquarters in London, Dakar, Senegal and Lahore, Pakistan. She suggested a group response to Roth.
Over a period of three weeks, with several women writing and others offering suggestions, we produced an Open Letter to Roth, which serves as a critique of his essay, signed by 17 global women’s human rights groups. Our letter is accompanied by a petition.

Read more here

 

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