Tunisia women activists accuse Islamist party of reneging pre-election promises


Tunisian women activists accused Ennahda party of giving false promises during its election campaign and reneging on them after winning a majority in the National Constituent Council in the first election the country witnessed after the ouster of President Zine Elabidine ben Ali’s regime.

Those activists were particularly concerned about recent statements by Ennahda leader Rashid Ghannouchi on making some changes to the personal status law, particularly concerning the legalization of adoption and the ban on polygamy.

During the election campaign Ennahda vowed not to tamper with personal status laws, especially those related to women, said lawyer and activist Bushra Belhaj Hemeida.

“What they are saying now means they are taking back this vow and this is not promising at all, especially since the government has not even been formed yet,” she told Al Arabiya.

Hemeida added that she is also concerned about the discourse Ennahda has been lately using through its advocates or its media outlets, like the party’s official paper al-Fajr, or the media in generally.

“Part of this discourse is slandering modernists and liberals.”

The fact that an unveiled woman came on top of Ennahda’s list, Hemeida argued, should not be looked upon as a guarantee that women’s rights (will be given priority).

“The veil is not related to being religious anyway.”

She also pointed out that although Ennahda said it supported a civil state, its main reference was always Islamic.

“That is why many people thought they were voting for Islam when they voted for Ennahda.”

For Hemeida, Ennahda committed a grave mistake when it communicated through its leader decisions it is not authorized to carry out.

“The job of the National Constituent Council is to draft the constitution not to pass laws.”

According to activist Olfa al-Ojaili, the personal status law is one of the most important social gains scored by Tunisian women and the Tunisian family in general.

“Ennahda deceived Tunisians when it announced the law will stay the same. They put on the democracy robe during the elections and took it off the moment they won,” she told Al Arabiya.

Ojaili announced the formation of the October 24 Front to defend women’s rights and freedoms in general in Tunisia.

“The front, which is made up of women lawyers and activists, will monitor the performance of Ennahda and all other parties especially the drafting of the constitution and whether it will be based on religious or civil laws.”

Ojaili slammed statements made by Ennahda candidate Souad bin Abdul Rahim to the effect that the Tunisian street is full of “moral violations” and that Ennahda has its own approach to this issue.

“What kind of ‘decent morals’ is Ennahda trying to promote?” she wondered.

Professor and researcher of Islamic Studies Amna al-Jabalawi seemed more optimistic, for she called upon Tunisians not to issue hasty judgments for the time being and expressed her contentment with the inclusion of liberal members in Ennahda.

“For me, this is a promising thing and it should allay people’s fears that women might lose their rights,” she told Al Arabiya.

Jabalwi pointed out that the Tunisian interim government signed during the past few months and in coordination with the Arab Institute for Human Rights (AIHR) several agreements that are bound to protect the rights of Tunisian citizens, both individual and public.

“The most prominent of those was the agreement with United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and which guarantees gender equality.”

Another project, she added, will be launched under the auspices of AIHR to train Tunisian parties to protect and respect human rights.

(This article was translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid.)