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Tunisian Islamists Offer Reassurance to Gays, Women, Drinkers

Tunisian Islamists Offer Reassurance to Gays, Women, Drinkers

The newly elected Islamist-led government in Tunisia has offered reassurances to both women and gays that they will respect ‘individual freedoms’.

In an interview with Spanish news agency EFE, Ennahda (“Renaissance”) party spokesman Riad Chaibi said that they will not pursue the use of alcohol or punish atheism and homosexuality.

Chaibi, who spent five years in prison for his opposition to dictator Ben Ali, said that in Tunisia “individual freedoms and human rights are enshrined principles” and that atheists and homosexuals are a reality in Tunisia and “have a right to exist.” According to Chaibi, in the case of homosexuals there is also “a matter of dignity, because society sees them as undervalued.”

In the Tunisian Penal Code homosexual sex is punishable with imprisonment for up to three years. The US State Department 2010 Human Rights Report says that:

There was anecdotal evidence that gays faced discrimination, including allegations that police officers sometimes brutalized openly gay persons and accused them of being the source of AIDS. There were no reports of persons arrested for homosexual activity.

Chaibi also denied that his party intends to make the wearing of the veil for women compulsory. “The veil is part of belief, a religious symbol, and as such has no value if it is taken from freedom,” he said.

He said that the Tunisian political, social model is closer to Muslim-majority states like Turkey or Malaysia than to Iran or Saudi Arabia. Tunisia has always been considered the most ‘liberal’ on social issues in North Africa.

“We want a lot [of what they have] in Turkey and to take advantage of their experience,” says Chaibi of another country ruled by a democratically elected Islamist government. He defines the Turkish model as “Islamo-modernist.” Chaibi admitted that the Arab world is “inward looking” but said that “you cannot force the Arab world, or anyone, to be modern.”

“We will not force anyone to drink or not drink: our principle is to convince the people of the negative aspects of alcohol, or drugs, but we have no intention to force,” he said, recalling how American Prohibition resulted in an increase in the consumption of alcohol.

Secularists, women’s groups and other detractors have accused Ennahda of being moderate in public and radical in the mosques.

The party will be the largest part of a coalition government.

“Ennahda will be mindful not to offend its coalition partners, and also the youth who voted for it, who aspire to a certain way of life,” Issaka Souare, a north African specialist at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, told AFP.

“It will need the buy-in of other members of the assembly in all decisions.”

“[Ennahda] cannot afford to damage Tunisia’s relations with Western countries,” Souare said, pointing to tourism which represents almost a tenth of GDP.

Tunisia’s neighbour, Libya, adopted Islamic Sharia law on Sunday as the basis of all the new regime’s laws.

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Photo credit European Parliament

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46 comments

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2:50AM PST on Jan 4, 2012

very well said tommy s.

12:05PM PST on Dec 18, 2011

Pam W says:--

"Show me a Muslim country where... Jews are welcomed and respected."

How about the country I live in, Morocco? Jews are returning from France and the Zionist Entity in increasing numbers. Even in the small town I live in has a new Jewish quarter and a brand new synagogue in addition to the one in the Mellah. A Moroccan Jew lives just 3 doors down from me.

During the war, when Mohammed V was told by the Vichy to order his officials to provide lists of Jews for deportation, he refused, saying, "Jews? There are no Jews in Morocco, only Moroccans". When Hassan II died, 100s of 1000s of Moroccan Jews lit candles and wept, saying "Hoowa Abouna", "He was our father". Mohammed VI has followed the tradition. One of his closest advisors is a Jew, Andre Azoulay. There are hate-crime provisions in Moroccan law making these more heavily punished than other crimes.

11:41AM PST on Dec 18, 2011

I might just add that Mrabet and Bowles have written on gay themes from within Morocco.

And we just have to look at Muslim majority states such as Burkina Faso, Benin, Mali, Cote d'Ivoire and Niger all of which do not forbid gay relations to see that there is nothing intrinsically "Islamic" about forbidding gay relationships and sexual congress. It is more a matter of tradition and culture and, unfortunately, leftovers from colonial era laws that remain on the statute book or were renewed on a nod-through at independence.

The Islamophobic loons on this and similar threads are possessed of such irrational hatred I fear for their sanity.

Now I sit back and wait for the usual insults of "dhimmi", "grow up" and worse.

11:38AM PST on Dec 18, 2011

As the loons can see from the article, the laws against homosexuality have not been enforced. In the face of a conservative society, HisMajesty Mohammed Sedeez has acknowledged the presence of homosexuals in his country:--

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_Morocco

"In 2010, the government permitted openly gay singer Elton John to gave a performance during the Mawazine Festival, despite objections from the Justice and Development Party, which is the biggest opposition party in the parliament [2]. The festival was sponsored by King Mohammed VI and is part of the king's broader plan to create a more open and modern nation [3]

"Abdellah Taïa and Rachid O., both successful writers, have written openly about gender roles and sexual identity in Morocco, but they do not reside in Morocco. Beyond these writers, the government has, unofficially, tolerated the existence of one magazine for the gay community as well as one gay rights organization.

"The LGBT publication Mithly has been allowed to be discretely distributed to adults in Morocco, although the government still will not grant the publication a distribution license and the magazine itself has to be made in neighboring Spain. [4]. In a similar sense, the government will not officially recognize the LGBT rights organization, KifKiff, but has allowed it to exist and co-sponsor some educational seminars.

11:20AM PST on Dec 18, 2011

Jesus, I arrived late here to find that the 2 couples who are cackling loons have beaten me to it, as have the other professional hatemongers who pollute every thread that deals with Islam.

9:17AM PDT on Nov 3, 2011

(to continue...)

Non-Muslims who really want to help promote GLBT equality and women's rights (and we do need all the support we can get!) can be a lot more helpful if you educate yourselves to the nuances and diversity that exist in the Muslim world. Reach out in a friendly way to Muslims to counteract prejudice on both sides. If you want to get an insight to how some Muslims -- including GLBT and feminist Muslims -- break the stereotypes I strongly recommend reading "Progressive Muslim Identities" published by Oracle Releasing.

9:15AM PDT on Nov 3, 2011

"In other words, tell the West what it wants to hear, and then it's business as usual on the ground."

Such duplicity is common among politicians everywhere, but as the article indicates there are very pragmatic reasons why An-Nahda would pursue more liberal policies and has models for doing so.

I have to wonder what people actually have experienced of Islam and Muslims when they speak about us. So much looks like parroting from profesional hate-mongers. I am Muslim and Gay, and have traveled in several Islamic countries. Although Tunisia is not one of them I've seen Tunisian films with positive gay characters. True, there is terrible homophobia in the Islamic world (as there is every where) and some Muslim countries have brutally harsh laws and conditions (as do Zimbabwe, Uganda, Jamaica, Belarus, etc...) but it is not nearly so monolithic as people seem to presume.

Not because he is a Muslim, but because he is a politician I would recommend holding Chiabi to his word and building on the opportunities that such statements create. Trust can be built, but it should never be presumed. Neither should it be rejected out of hand.

Non-Muslims who really want to help promote GLBT equality and women's rights (and we do need all the support we can get!) can be a lot more helpful if you educate yourselves to the nuances and diversity that exist in the Muslim world. Reach out in a friendly way to Muslims to counteract prejudice on both sides. If you want to get an insi

12:47PM PDT on Oct 30, 2011

"Secularists, women’s groups and other detractors have accused Ennahda of being moderate in public and radical in the mosques."

In other words, tell the West what it wants to hear, and then it's business as usual on the ground.

I'd say I'll believe it when I see it, but I don't think I'd trust it even then.

6:19AM PDT on Oct 30, 2011

I really hope he means everything he said. I hope people in Tunisia can enjoy the freedom so bravely fought for.

1:49AM PDT on Oct 30, 2011

"“We want a lot [of what they have] in Turkey and to take advantage of their experience,” says Chaibi of another country ruled by a democratically elected Islamist government. He defines the Turkish model as “Islamo-modernist."

Islamo-modernist: take a modern country like Turkey, which summarily dismissed (essentially a coup) the modernist, secularist military in operation Sledgehammer, hold elections perhaps once, installing Islamists for the foreseeable future, but try to keep the tourists and their money coming, and that's how you get Islamo-modernists.

Kind of like Hamas in Gaza: one vote, one time

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