By Houda Trabelsi
The latest controversy to flare up in Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly occurred after a prominent Ennahda member slammed labour protestors, citing a Qur’anic verse.
“Those who cut off roads and railways, paralysed the work of factories and mines and set fire to the public utilities in Tunisia during recent months are pockets of apostasy that seek corruption on the land,” Sadok Chourou told the assembly on Monday (January 23rd).
In what some described as a call for hadd (sharia punishment) against protestors, Chourou referred to verse 5:33.
“Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. That is for them a disgrace in this world; and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment,” Chourou said, citing the Qur’an.
The remarks prompted a litany of reactions from human rights defenders and the opposition.
The Tunisian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LTDH) accused Chourou of “incitement to violence, murder and exile”.
The league issued a press statement, a copy of which was sent to the Ennahda member, saying that it “strongly condemns these statements and regards them as an invitation to deal with the sit-ins with intimidation and abuse, rather than dealing with them through dialogue and application of the law”.
The LTDH is “surprised by the issuance of this dangerous statement from a representative of the people and before the eyes and ears of the president and members of the National Constituent Assembly”, the statement read.
Chourou fired back, blaming “media exaggeration” in their claims that citing a Qur’anic verse gives rise to hatred.
“The Ennahda Movement is firm in its Islamic authority and Islamic discourse, and it is one of its advantages and original principles,” he maintained.
Chourou explained that he referred to those who disrupt the economy and in no way called for enforcing hadd against protestors.
However, the explanation failed to assuage many critics.
Communist Workers’ Party spokesman Hamma Hammami told Magharebia, “What Sadok Chourou did in citing this verse is incite public opinion against the demonstrators and protesters using religion to cast them as enemies of God and His Prophet.”
Chourou’s reading of the verse is a “truncated reading, and it was used inappropriately in him talking about sit-ins and protests, which were not present at the time the revelation of this holy Qur’anic verse”, according to doctor and academic Mohamed Talbi.
“Chorou’s address is mixing politics and religion,” he added.
“Using the Koran to justify the new dictatorship is dangerous and will lead us to what will ultimately have dire consequences,” Monia Mezni, 45, told Magharebia.
“The call to implement Islamic law and in a distorted way returns Tunisia to a new dictatorship, nothing more,” Maya Shayeb said.
Others defended the Ennahda member.
“When I heard the words of sheikh Chorou and his citing the verses, I really felt that there was a revolution and an Islamic awakening in our beloved Tunisia,” said Murad Falis, 33.
Lotfi Zitoun, an advisor to Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, argued that Chourou’s words should not be taken “literally”.
“He believes that the sit-ins hurt the economy,” Zitoun explained. “This man has spent more than 20 years in prison and was prohibited from speaking for 16 years in solitary confinement, and he is entitled to say what he wishes and has immunity as a member of the Constituent Assembly and cannot be judged on intentions.”
He added that Ennahda had “not called for applying hadd against anyone”.
Chourou was the head of Ennahda from 1988 to 1991. In 1992, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for attempting to overthrow the Ben Ali regime. The sentence was reduced, and Chourou was released in October 2010.