26 December 2012

Tunisia: Islamist Rule Influences Tunisian Society

Tunis — The historic rise to power of an Islamist party has altered Tunisian attitudes toward religion, local analysts say.

Islamist rule has had an impact in varying degrees on the daily life of Tunisians, journalist Aymen Zammeli told Magharebia.

"Many citizens and families have changed their interests because of the position of one member of their families. The tendency to religiosity became visible and noted also by many," he said.

"The burqa became more common. The interest of number of parents to Qur'anic schools and religious education in general became more visible too," Zammeli added.

Fathia Saidi, a sociology professor and a political activist, told Magharebia that the most important indicators of the shift were a parallel economy, and the marginalisation of the service sector and tourism trade.

Saidi also pointed to a deteriorating relationship between the ruler and the ruled, as evidenced by recent events in Sidi Bouzid.

The government, "regardless of who leads it, is unable to address the volume of social and economic issues", Saidi said.

"This is especially true with a government that does not deal with reality through deep analysis of the nature of what is going on and what had happened and does not understand the needs and requirements of society," the professor added.

Despite all efforts, "members of the government of Ennahda showed major vulnerabilities in conflict and social conflict management. This government failed drastically in communicating with citizens. It did not even realise that during conflicts, there is a type of communication called crisis communication," she explained.

Maysa Kaabi, 33, told Magharebia that "the observer of the Tunisian street sees a change in some superficial behaviours like the increase of the number of veiled women".

"They didn't exist prior to the revolution. The same for beards and Afghani dresses which are considered foreign to the Tunisian society, like the veil," Kaabi said, explaining the shift "by the fact that the rise of Ennahda to power changed the composition of Tunisian society."

Moetez Arfaoui said, "We started to notice the effect of the rule of Ennahda on the daily life of Tunisians through new habits such as chaotic street carts vendors selling perfumes, incense, veils and other supplies associated with the Afghani or Wahhabi styles; styles that are foreign to Tunisia."

However, not everyone said the changes were negative. Atef Cherni commented that it was "a change for the better".

"Our society is showing signs that it became Muslim by the grace of God," Cherni said, adding that "the increased number of veiled women and covered women and bearded men indicates the return of Tunisians to Islam."

Hisham Wesleti, 47, said the shift in behaviour was "minimal and infective", adding that most people were "living their daily lives normally, performing Tunisian customs during holidays, celebrations and other events."

"It is true that some superficial manifestations entered our society, but it is like a fashion that started with the rise of Islamists to power," he added. "These habits will disappear once these governments disappear."

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