By Houda Trabelsi
Bearded men roam the streets and batter with their batons those whom they perceive different from their sect, terrifying women and youths. Tunisian woman Monia Jawadi emphatically described what the country would look if it were to institutionalise its first morality police.
Reports that Tunisia may establish a committee for the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice have sent waves of anxiety among citizens, especially as the country struggles to preserve its social gains.
“It would be a major disaster if such a committee was given a legal license,” Jawadi said, adding that the body would be “alien” to Tunisia and its habits.
Committee founder Adil El Almi, however, argued that the creation of religious police has become “indispensable” in Tunisia.
“The recent election has proved that the Islamic identity of the Tunisian people is out of the question,” he told Magharebia.
“Our field of activity will mainly be social, and we’ll try to find solutions for problems before they are referred to courts,” he said. “We’ll also redress grievances and defend the oppressed. We will start from that, and we’ll follow a policy of gradual stages and arguments.”
The institution consists of “a sharia body comprising a number of scholars and jurisprudents in Islamic sharia, as well as legal and media bodies comprising of specialists”, El Almi added. He said that they would “submit an application for association work in the upcoming period”.
“We believe that Tunisians will be proud of that, and they won’t have to resort to religious satellite channels in search of fatwas,” he added. “The work of the sharia body will be linked to scholars, and thus we won’t need the fatwas of Middle Eastern imams.”
El Almi’s committee protested against the appointment of Iqbal Gharbi as the head of the Zaytouna religious radio station. In their first public appearance, they staged a demonstration opposite the radio station headquarters and demanded that she step down.
“If this committee was given a legal license, it would be parallel to the authority of state, and this is just not conceivable in a state of law and institutions,” Gharbi told Magharebia. “We will respect the law if it is given a license. However, I think that the results will be negative; we’ll be faced with a state inside the state.”
“What this committee has done is a stark violation of human rights, as it opposed me based on my thought and views,” she said in response to the protest. “Therefore, this committee has violated my freedom of expression and is judging peoples’ consciences. This committee will be like a religious police force, and this is an odd thing to our Tunisian civilisation and habits.”
For his part, Interior Ministry spokesman Hicham Mouaddeb told Magharebia that his ministry was “responsible for granting permits to organisations and parties after the revolution”.
Tunisian law prohibits associations that “rely in their main organisation, programmes or activities on calls for violence, hatred, intolerance and discrimination based on religion, sex or region”, he reiterated.
“What are the entities that stand behind these groups that are spreading panic among people?” wondered Mohamed Belsadek. “These entities are certainly carrying the political Islam fingerprints, especially in imposing the veil, and even in the name of the committee for the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice.”