Khedija LemkecherNEW DELHI, India, December 22nd (IPS) – Ten years ago, Mohamed Bouazizi, a young street vendor, set himself on fire in the central Tunisian provincial town of Sidi Bouzid to protest the harassment by the police. Bouazizi’s act of sacrifice served as a catalyst and inspired the Tunisian people to take over the roads that led to the Jasmine Revolution in the country. Mohamed Bouazizi died on January 4, 2011, and ten days later the rule of the country’s authoritarian president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, ended when he fled to Saudi Arabia.
These protests marked a historic turning point and sparked a wave of pro-democracy uprisings in several Muslim countries, including Morocco, Syria, Egypt, Libya and Bahrain.
One of the rare success stories that emerged from the Arab Spring has been the history of Tunisia with regime change and an ongoing process of democratization. While Tunisia has taken important steps to protect human rights by adopting a progressive new constitution and holding free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections, the country still grapples with serious gaps in its legal system to protect its citizens.
Since 2011, Tunisia has seen more than ten major changes of government. The 2014 elections marked a significant moment of political transition in the country, with the consensus of the ruling political parties Ennahda and Nidaa Tounes, who pledged to build on a “secularist-Islamist rapprochement”.
“In the past ten years there have been many changes in the Tunisian constitution and political regime. Until 2014, Tunisia’s new constitution had strong protection for women’s rights, which is committed to protecting women’s rights and strengthening and developing these rights, and guarantees equal opportunities between women and men, ”says Khedija Lemkecher, activist for women’s rights and Filmmaker from Tunisia on IPS.
“These constitutional changes made Tunisia one of the few countries in the Arab world that, through their democratic elections, had a constitutional obligation to advocate for gender equality. However, they only remained on paper because the laws did not change the thinking of many people. ” said Khedija.
In 2017, women’s rights in Tunisia made two more important and significant advances when Tunisian women were given the legal right to marry non-Muslim men. Following the landmark Law on Violence Against Women, Article 227 (a) of the Tunisian Criminal Code, which allowed rapists to avoid punishment for marrying their victims, was abolished.
In February and May 2019, a parliamentary committee in Tunisia held two meetings to discuss a bill to end discrimination against women in relation to inheritance. Inheritance in Tunisia continues to be based on Islamic Sharia law, which provides that a son in the family is entitled to double the share granted to the daughter in the family. Parliament has since failed to resume discussions on this bill, a clear setback for inheritance equality in Tunisia for women.
According to the US State Department’s 2019 report on international religious freedom, the Tunisian government declared the country’s religion to be Islam, also declared the country a “civil state” and designated the government as the “guardian of religion” and committed the state to uphold the values To spread “moderation and tolerance”.
However, religion in public life in Tunisia remains ambiguous and the integration of political Islam with several conflicting voices against the democratic system also remains a major challenge.
“After the revolution in Tunisia, freedom of expression became a powerful weapon for journalists and artists in the country. Today we as filmmakers are not subject to censorship, we can speak freely, but the problem lies in hate speech, especially against women. There is a difference between free speech and violent free speech, ”says Khedija.
Earlier this year, Emna Charqui, a blogger in Tunisia, was sentenced to six months in prison for sharing a satirical post about Covid-19 in the form of a verse from the Koran. Despite Tunisia’s democratic progress, the Tunisian authorities continued to use repressive laws to undermine freedom of expression in the country.
Human Rights Watch, the leading rights group, called on the Tunisian government in a report released in February 2020 to make human rights a priority in the country and urged the government to protect fundamental rights in eight key areas: Ending prosecutions for peaceful Speech, arbitrary arrests, state of emergency ill-treatment, violence against women, persecution of homosexuals and accountability for past police violations of human rights, reform of the judiciary and security sector. Tunisians are still waiting for all of their rights to be enshrined in law, the report said.
Harassment by the judiciary and the increase in arrests under anti-sodomy laws, as well as the application of Sharia law to shut down the LGBT rights group in Tunisia, are also a growing problem. Attempts to shut down interest groups that defend the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people violate international law and standards. The Tunisian authorities need to take conscious steps to revise their laws and practices to recognize and protect the already marginalized LGBT community in the country.
One of the greatest achievements and the “hard-won value of the Arab Spring”, according to Amnesty International, was freedom of expression, which all began from the streets of Tunisia. A decade on, Tunisia must recognize that for a successful democratic process it is important that its leaders understand that the central pillars of democracy lie in their values for human rights and the protection of their most vulnerable citizens, without which no progress can be achieved.
Audio conversation: Sania Farooqui & Khedija Lemkecher Audio conversation: Sania Farooqui & Khedija LemkecherThe author reported on the 2011 Arab Spring from London for CNN International’s flagship program ‘Connect The World’ with Becky Anderson. As a journalist and filmmaker from New Delhi, she hosts the Sania Farooqui Show, where Muslim women from all over the world are invited to share their views.
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