Tunisian Women Fear the Algerian Way

Published on IPS, by Giuliana Sgrena, August 5, 2011.

A women’s group begins campaigning near La Marsa beach in Tunis to convince more women to come up and register in the electoral lists, in time for the deadline now pushed back to Aug. 14. Most of the women watching the proceedings are veiled.

The veils present more a question than a suggestion at present. One survey among veiled women conduced by journalists here claims that four in five of these women will not vote for Ennahda, the Islamist party surging ahead in popularity ahead of elections for a constituent assembly due in October.

Veils in such numbers are an unusual sight in Tunisia where women visit the beach just as comfortably in a bikini as wearing a headscarf, and just as comfortable sipping wine as a soft drink, listening to rap or traditional music.  

Looks may be deceptive, one way or another. “Look around,” says Khadija, an activist with the Modernist Democratic Front – a coalition of local Tunisian democratic parties – on another beachfront near the fashionable La Goulette. “Can you see these people living under Islamic law? Tunisia is not Algeria. I am sure it will never happen here.”

But more and more are not so sure any more. “Tunisia is not Algeria” is a slogan of the secularists, determined to see their country more liberal than the largely Islamist Algeria. But worrying signs have begun to appear … //

… On another front women are fighting the undemocratic influence of former president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in institutions such as the media. The media gives little space to women, even though they are politically active, and many will be candidates.

“After 23 years of dictatorship (Ben Ali was thrown out in the January revolution), the presence of old supporters of Ben Ali in key posts means there is no respect for the press,” Najiba Hamrouni, of the National Journalists Trade Union and chief editor of the Centre for Arab Women for Training and Research (Cawtayrat), told IPS.

Maya Jribi is general secretary of the Progressive Democratic Party, but the face of the party in the media is invariably former leader Nejib Chebbi, a male. The monthly magazine ‘Femmes & Realities’ carried a special report on women engaged in politics in its July issue. This is a women’s magazine, but it rarely publishes articles about women engaged in politics.

A group of women is now carrying out a project for monitoring the media. (full text).

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