Tunisians debate niqab-wearing election nominee

Tunisia’s Islamist National Independent party nominated its face-veiled candidate

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The recent announcement that a niqab-wearing woman is to run in Tunisia’s upcoming legislative elections has sparked debate, with proponents claiming her face covering could hinder her ability to communicate and could make it difficult to prove her identity when in public.

The debate on whether a woman who wears the face covering suitable to run for elections began after the newly formed, mainly Islamist, National Independent party nominated its face-veiled candidate.

One day after the formation of the National Independent party, its head Bilhasan al-Naqash told al-Quds newspaper in an interview published Sept. 8 of the news, which is an unprecedented move in Tunisia.

The news has not been well-received by some women who support secularism.

Bakhta Bilqadhi, head of the non-profit organization Association Tunisienne des Femmes Démocrates, criticized the nomination.

She described the Islamist party’s nominating a niqab-wearing woman as merely “political calculations and marketing.”

She further scorned the party when she said “it does not have any real plan for women’s participation and in all fields.”

Another observer, writer and political activist Raja bin Salah, posed questions on how the niqab-wearing woman would run in the elections.

In a message written to the head of Tunisia’s elections council, bin Saleh wrote on her Facebook: “It is not possible, according to my opinion, to accept the comedy of accepting niqab-wearing women in elections. How do we make sure that it is the same woman? What if her face was not luring enough? Or even her voice? Or will her husband stand beside her to give a speech on her bahlf, like I have seen in some countries?”

Meanwhile, Secretary-General for the progressive Islamic Reform Party and Development Mohammed al-Qomani told Al Arabiya News that what the person wears should not be taken as an excuse to discriminate between citizens.

While Qomani said the face-veiled woman has the freedom and the legal backing to enter the elections race, he too described the face covering as a hindrance.

One Twitter user summed up the general sentiment when he wrote: “Legally, it is allowed, but it hides and hinders identity.”

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