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Feb 23, 2011
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Subsequent Question for Tunisia: The Role of Islam in Politics

Next 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 latest days more than the role of Islam in politics. Tensions mounted right here final week when military helicopters and security forces were 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 excellent!” and “No to brothels in a Muslim nation!”

Five weeks soon 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 regardless of whether, Islamism needs to be infused in to the new government.

About 98 percent with the population of 10 million is Muslim, but Tunisia’s liberal social policies and Western life-style shatter stereotypes of the Arab globe. Abortion is legal, polygamy is banned and females frequently 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’re concerned that within the cacophonous aftermath from 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 Females, a feminist organization. “We don’t wish to let down our guard.”

Ms. Cherif was 1 of thousands of Tunisians who marched by means of Tunis, the capital, on Saturday demanding the separation of mosque and state in among the largest demonstrations because the overthrow of Mr. Ben Ali.

Protesters held up signs 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 major Muslim political movement, 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 to the Islamic parties that govern Turkey and Malaysia.

“We know we have an essentially fragile economy that’s extremely open toward the outside planet, to the point of being entirely dependent on it,” Hamadi Jebali, the party’s secretary basic, mentioned in an interview with the Tunisian magazine Réalités. “We have no interest whatsoever in throwing anything away right now 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 movement would evolve.

“We don’t know if they may be a actual threat or not,” she mentioned. “But the very best defense is to attack.” By this she meant that secularists ought to assert themselves, she said.

Ennahdha is one of the handful of organized movements inside a extremely fractured political landscape. The caretaker government that has managed the country because Mr. Ben Ali was ousted is fragile and weak, with no clear leadership emerging from the revolution.

The unanimity with the protest movement against Mr. Ben Ali in January, the uprising that set off demonstrations across the Arab world, has since evolved into quite a few every day protests by competing groups, a improvement that many Tunisians locate unsettling.

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

Among the largest demonstrations because Mr. Ben Ali fled took location on Sunday in Tunis, where several thousand protesters marched for the prime minister’s office to demand the caretaker government’s resignation. They accused it of possessing hyperlinks to Mr. Ben Ali’s government.

Tunisians are debating the future of their nation 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 individuals 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 specifically unsettling for females. With the substantial security apparatus with the old government decimated, leaving the police force in disarray, numerous ladies now say they are afraid to walk outside alone at evening.

Achouri Thouraya, a 29-year-old graphic artist, says she has mixed feelings toward the revolution.

She shared within 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 regarded as extremist, a draconian police program that included monitoring these who prayed frequently, helped protect the rights of women.

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

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

She added, “We do not know who will likely be president and what attitudes he may have toward girls.”

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

“This can be a maritime country,” Mr. Troudi stated. “We are sailors, and we’ve always been open for the outside globe. I’ve confidence within the Tunisian folks. It’s not a nation of fanatics.”