While discussions of Sharia in the West are often academic exercises where comfortable pundits reassure themselves with visions of how Islamic law “ought” to work, women like those quoted below know they face a very real loss of rights and of their way of life if Islamic parties take control.
“Women keep wary eye on Tunisian revolt,” from Al-Arabiya, January 23:
Tunisian women are watching warily should the popular revolt that ousted the authoritarian president also unravel women’s rights bolstered by his secular regime in this predominantly Muslim country.
“I’m scared of the return of the Islamists,” said Sonia, a 35-year-old government official who declined to give her last name, as the long-banned Islamist movement Ennahdha prepares to enter the newly-freed political scene.
“They’ll impose a new culture that is totally alien to us like the fundamentalist dress code,” said Sonia, referring to the Muslim headscarf worn by some but by no means all women in the north African state.
If we say that, we’re Islamophobes. And as evil as al-Awlaki.
It’s a fear backed by little substance so far — except for some talk on chat shows and warnings on Tunisian Facebook pages.
Ennahdha, itself, has said it will respect the country’s laws.
Yet Mabrouka, 29, a journalist who also did not give her last name, was watchful. “I saw a lot of bearded men today. I was really afraid. I don’t think the laws on women’s rights will change but the Islamists are going to be even more forceful than before.”
The 23-year rule of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was widely hated by Tunisians and banned many democratic freedoms, but observers say the laws put in place by his regime had effectively improved rights for women.
The new transitional national unity government has emphasised it will defend these rights but many women are concerned by its promises to legalise the Ennahdha (Awakening) as a political party.
Ennahdha’s exiled leader Rached Ghannouchi has said he will return to his homeland “very soon”. He has embraced moderate goals similar to Turkey’s ruling Islamist Justice and Development (AKP) party.
The worry is mainly over any changes to the Personal Status Code — a law first approved after independence from France in 1956 which bans polygamy and gives equal rights to husbands and wives in a family.
It also says divorced women and their children should receive alimony.
Women’s rights groups are unconvinced by the assurances of the new government, notably with some commentators in recent days using the new freedom of expression on Tunisian television to advocate conservative values.
One commentator has said allowing multiple wives would help right a demographic imbalance in the country, another has called for women to stay at home in order to solve the Arab state’s unemployment problem.
“Women should wear veils to prevent sexual harassment. That is what one hears now on Tunisia’s streets,” an article in the La Presse newspaper said….