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Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Are LGBT Tunisians about to face a dark Arab winter?

Source: Gay Middle East

By Tarek, GME Tunisia Editor

Here in Tunisia we had our Arab Spring which I supported – we brought the dictator Ben Ali down. The summer passed and autumn came, recently, on the 24th of October we had elections. The Islamic Ennahda Party won 90 seats, making it the largest bloc in the 217-member assembly. Although they obtained only 25% of votes, they have 41% of seats. This is due to the dispersion of other political groups and independents which means, 35% of votes were lost.

The Islamic party kept reassuring it will protect religious and ethnic minorities and never question the achievements of Tunisian women. Homosexuality is a taboo that was not discussed by any party, and even less by the Ennahda. For example, the humanist parties like the “Modern Democratic Pole” just promised to protect individual freedoms and change the laws in order to be conform to international conventions. This party’s sympathizers were accused, mostly by islamists who wants to weaken them, of being pro gays, lesbians and prostitutes because they defended basic human rights. It got only 5 seats.

An executive member of the populist Party “Ennahdha” recently promised dignity for gays, this declaration was very welcomed by the foreign media and some LGBT associations. Paradoxically, it was very frightening for LGBT Tunisians to know that this party, with its violent history, will be interested in sexual orientation and rights. Tunisian gays would prefer stay out of the political debate because they know the Islamic leaders are just manipulating and hiding their real intentions.

Mr Riadh Chaibi who promised gays dignity is a “political scientist” known for his anti-liberalism, he is considered as a conservative but moderate member.

But let us return for a minute to the Ennahda Party; the gap between what the leaders of the party are saying to the international media compared with the very conservative discourse they have in their meetings in Tunisia is huge. This gap is even more important between leaders and sympathizers. The majority of sympathizers of the Ennahdha are influenced by extremist religious theories, and the party is torn between satisfying the extremist voters and having the confidence of moderate ones. This is the main reason of the contradictory declarations of the leaders and often of the same person who could say something and the opposite at the same time.


Therefore, what Mr Riadh Chaibi said seems to be more a personal point of view than an official position of his party. This is what we are getting used to for months now from the leaders of the party. In addition to that, the titles are very attractive but the content is a little less. Mr Chaibi, who is far from being the spokesman of the party as mentioned in the article, gave an analysis of a situation that is not unknown to anyone. Everyone knows the suffering of LGBT community in Tunisia. He insisted in the fact that the problem is in the non-acceptance of this category of people by society. But no solution is proposed and no willingness to change the situation is expressed. This is exactly what the party is very talented to do; hide behind the supposed will of the people only when it is consistent with their conservative ideology.

Our proof of this contradiction is illustrated in several interviews, including the one of Le Monde with the secretary-general of the party, Hamadi Jebali who confirmed that a homosexual can join the party if he respects the principles of the party which are, according to him, “against this actions, homosexuals and others.” (I still don’t know what he means by “others”, maybe prostitution and extramarital relations.)

How can a gay person, Mr Jebali, join your party by accepting its principles which refuse homosexuals? Unless he is schizophrenic, I don’t see other explanation.

Jebali added: “there are no laws concerning homosexuality and this is a secondary issue that is not one of our priorities, the existing one should not be modified and should be respected”; however he intentionally omitted stating that this law can lead homosexuals to be imprisoned, just for having made a sexual relation with another consenting adult.

Which dignity is he speaking about?

How can Mr Chaibi ensure that LGBT people will be protected when the leader of the party and the next prime minister of Tunisia affirms antigay laws will not be changed.

Unfortunately, the Islamic leader maybe forgot to mention that the debate in Tunisia is still about polygamy and alcohol consumption. Furthermore, the “spiritual” leader Rached Ghanouchi is well known for his double speak. He qualified polygamy as something authorized by Islam yet not imposed; the solution is to give everyone the “freedom of choice”. It was his way to install confusion so as not to lose voices from both moderate and extremist sides. He also said on more than one occasion that secularism is disbelief “Koffr” although he and his family were refugees in UK for years. So why didn’t he choose Islamic Saudi or Iran?

LGBT people’s suffering in Tunisia started a long time before the election but I fear its results may make things worse. The democratic parties cannot protect gays because they don’t believe in gay rights. The sympathizers of the Ennahda Party are making laws in popular quarters and a state within a state is being installed.

The Islamic leaders don’t mention in front of western journalists that their sympathizers are invading universities in order to fix their extremist laws. Rachid did not comment on the disturbing growth of violence against gays and “unveiled” women in Tunisia during the last months. If he is that worried about gays, why doesn’t his party condemn violence against them? Why do many sympathizers threaten to kill every voice that wants to protect minorities or defend tolerance (example: Dr Ofa Youssef, some members of the Tunisia Tolerance Association …)

How can we believe they will protect gays while most of their sympathizers and leaders blame Ben Ali for having spread sodomy and wrongness just because some gays in bourgeois places could have a “normal” life and women were not obliged to put the “hijab”?

Tunisian gays are meanwhile losing hope and continuing the double life role they were forced to play, they are getting more and more discreet and most of them are seriously thinking to leave the country because they are not even considered as a normal citizens, and this is unfortunately a truth that even the majority of non islamic parties agree with… Is our Arab spring about to turn to a dark winter?
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