So, are they racists or Islamophobes? They are neither, of course: they know how high the stakes are. “Tunisian women demonstrate to protect their rights,” by Bouazza ben Bouazza for the Associated Press, November 3:
TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) “” Some 200 Tunisian women demonstrated Wednesday in downtown Tunis in defense of their rights, following the election victory of an Islamist party.
Tunisia is known for some of the most progressive legislation in the Middle East regarding women’s rights “” something many say is in danger after a moderate Islamist party took the most votes in the recent election.
The Islamist Ennahda Party, however, has promised to protect women’s rights, including the personal status code, which makes women equal to men in divorce and bars polygamy.
Liberals, however, have accused the Islamist party of “double speak.”
“Everyone together for our rights,” the women chanted. “Our dignity is in the preservation of our rights.”
“The Tunisian woman is present in every sphere of public life and was at the forefront of the revolution,” said Ilham Barrouta, 47, a journalist at the demonstration, referring to the uprising that brought down the previous regime in January. It was known for its secular policies and oppression of religious conservatives.
However, these same conservatives were the most organized in the Oct. 23 election and won far more votes than other parties. The ballot was for an assembly that will now write the country’s new constitution, and the demonstrators said the only way women’s right can be protected is if they are enshrined in the new document.
With the fall of Tunisia’s dictatorship there also has appeared an ultraconservative movement known as the Salafists with little interest in politics, but seeking to pressure greater religious observation in society.
Many of Wednesday’s demonstrators said they had come out because of an attack by Salafist students on three female instructors at a nearby university.
A delegation from the demonstrators was received by the interim prime minister who assured them that women’s rights was a “red line” for all the parties.
There’s more than one way to take that.