FaithWorld

Tunisian Muslims worship freely after revolution

tunis mosqueFor 23 years, Tunisians prayed in fear. They limited their visits to the mosque. They talked to no one. Women could not wear the veil on the street and men could not wear long beards for fear of arrest. On Friday, for the first time since the overthrow of secular ex-president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisians attended their weekly sermon without fear that this public expression of piety would cost them their jobs or their freedom.

“We couldn’t pray freely before,” Abdel Kouki, 57, said outside the Quds mosque in the Tunisian capital as hundreds of men, most in suits or jeans, streamed into the small mosque. (Photo: Kasbah Mosque in Tunis, 28 July 2009/Rais67)

Some spilled out onto its courtyard, where they knelt on straw mats. Women, their heads covered, crept in through a side entrance to their gallery to pray.

Like many Arab leaders, Ben Ali styled himself as a bulwark against the spread of Islamic extremism and al Qaeda and enjoyed good ties with the West until the last days of the Tunisian uprising that unseated him this month. Many said that under Ben Ali, plain clothes police infiltrated the mosques and filed reports on those who seemed to be praying too often or too ardently.

“In Tunisia, if you want to get a permanent job, you have to go through a security check on your political views, whether you are leftist, Islamist, nationalist,” Rida Harrathi, a self-proclaimed Islamist, told Reuters as he entered the mosque. “I was expelled from work and when I asked why they said your problem is with the interior ministry… If you are honest about yourself, and especially if you are an Islamist, you will lose your job or you will not be confirmed in it.”

Tunisia revolt makes Islamist threat ring hollow

rcd (Photo: Tunisian protester with political demands on a banner that reads

“No to a government born of corruption” “Ben Ali is in Saudi Arabia and the government is the same (hasn’t changed)” in Arabic and “RCD, clear out!” in French. The RCD is the party of former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.  In Tunis January 18, 2011/Zohra Bensemra)

The absence of Islamist slogans from Tunisia’s pro-democracy revolt punches a hole in the argument of many Arab autocrats that they are the bulwark stopping religious radicals sweeping to power.

Ousted strongman Zine el Abidine Ben Ali spent much of his 23-year rule crushing Islamist opposition groups who opposed his government’s brand of strict secularism: after Sept. 11 2001, he was an enthusiastic backer of Washington’s “war on terror”.

But the evidence of the past week is that the protest slogans that rang out before his fall demanded not an imposition of Islamic sharia law but fair elections and free speech.

Tunisian Islamist leader says he’ll return from exile

tunis (Photo: Protesters in Tunis January 14, 2011/Zohra Bensemra)

The leader of a banned Tunisian Islamist movement has said he would return in the next few days from exile in London after Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who ran the country for 23 years, was forced out.

Tunisian authorities outlawed the Ennahda, or Renaissance, movement in the early 1990s after accusing it of a violent plot to overthrow secular rule. But the movement said it is non-violent and the victim of government repression.

“I am going to go back very soon,” Rached Ghannouchi told Reuters in an telephone interview at the weekend. “I haven’t decided when yet, but possibly in the days to come.”