Tunisia’s interior ministry has said that a female activist has been arrested for painting a feminist message on the wall of a mosque and trying to expose her breasts.
Italian police have arrested four Islamists they suspect belonged to a militant cell planning attacks in Israel, Italy and the United States. Police said the men, mostly from Tunisia, are suspected of conspiracy to commit international terrorism and inciting racial hatred.
The Tunisian women’s rights activist who scandalized the Muslim world and became an overnight symbol of post-Arab Spring gender issues by publishing a photo of herself topless is reportedly in hiding after suffering abuse at the hands of her family. She is said to be preparing to leave Tunisia and go into exile in France.
Amina Tyler, a Tunisian activist, has inspired the Ukrainian feminist group, FEMEN, to jump-start a new Arab Spring for women’s rights. Tyler caused controversy after posting photos of feminist slogans written across her naked chest, hoping to raise awareness of the deteriorating situation of women’s rights in the Middle East. A Muslim preacher demanded the teenager be stoned, calling her an “epidemic.” Because of Tyler’s demonstration, FEMEN has declared April 4 a day of “relentless topless jihad against Islamism.”
Egyptian poet Abd Al-Rahmin Al-Abnoudi expresses horror that both Egypt and Tunisia are becoming like Afghanistan, falling under the grip of fanatics who rule through suppression and the not-so-veiled threat of assassinations. It’s now official: The Arab Spring didn’t produce a wave of freedom. It just toppled a few long-standing despots, allowing a new set of thugs to seize power.
The murder of Tunisia’s opposition leader has triggered widespread protests and prompted the prime minister to form a new government. The prime minister announced an interim cabinet of technocrats would replace his Islamist-led coalition. The gunning down of Chokri Belaid led to the shakeup.
Femen activists occupied the Louvre in Paris today, using the Venus de Milo as the backdrop for their topless protest against a controversial trial in Tunisia. Under the topsy-turvy perversion of justice associated with Sharia law, a Tunisian woman named Mariam, who was raped by policemen, now faces charges of being “immoral.”
The Femen activists view the trial as a travesty and called upon women worldwide to resist the spread of Sharia, arguing it permits rape victims to be treated like criminals. The protesters chanted “We have hands to stop rape,” referencing the armless Venus de Milo, an ancient Greek sculpture on permanent display at the Louvre Museum.
Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, has sunken into chaos since the toppling of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on Jan. 14, 2011. Before the revolution, Muslims, Christians, Jews and atheists lived in relative peace. But in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, radical Islamists have terrorized the nation’s minorities. Roving bands of jihadists and Salafists have desecrated churches, destroyed graves and chanted anti-Jewish slogans outside El Ghriba, Tunisia’s last functioning synagogue. The extremists spread feces on the walls of a Russian Orthodox Church, ordering the priest to remove all Christian symbols. ”And if we didn’t do it, they’d resort to force,” the frightened priest says.
The moderate Ennahda party, which is now running the Tunisian government, insists these are the actions of rogue elements. ”We have to convince them. It is a country for all citizens, whether Islamists or not,” says Rachid Ghannouchi, Ennahda’s leader. But his party faces an uphill struggle. Thamina Thabet from the Society for the Support of Minorities notes the Salafists have “taken control of 400 mosques and now they are teaching a new generation the way they think.” Bill Code reports from Tunisia and asks, “As religious minorities watch with unease the growing strength of puritanical Islamist groups, can a country with a proud secular tradition find its democracy?” H/T Journeyman Pictures
Tunisia, birthplace of the Arab Spring, still finds itself teetering and torn apart by violence one year after the revolution. In the wake of the coup that deposed the government of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, unemployment has climbed 5 percent to reach a staggering 18 percent, and the nation’s GDP, or gross domestic product, has shrunk nearly 2 percent. Foreign investors largely remain on the sidelines, skittish about lending a hand, or any money, to the fragile state.
Meanwhile, the new coalition government led by the Ennahda ruling party has faced growing dissension, coming from both the left and right flanks. The Islamist religious right has chafed at the new government’s refusal to incorporate Sharia Laws as the foundation for Tunisia’s new constitution and also has widely rioted against the sales of alcohol.
By the same token, students and urban liberals have been disappointed because the freer society they envisioned has not materialized. Last fall, the Nessma TV station broadcast Persepolis, nominated for an Academy Award for best animated feature in 2007. After a case brought against Nessma by 144 attorneys, the government fined the station the equivalent of $1,500 on the grounds that the picture blasphemes religion.
Independent journalist Bill Code, formerly with SBS World News Australia, has spent considerable time in Tunisia, observing the changes, the conflicts and the chaos on the ground. Visit his website at http://inkybinary.wordpress.com/ to read his first-hand observations. Here’s his latest broadcast report, being distributed out of the United Kingdom by Journeyman Pictures.