Events in Tunisia have prompted a mixed reaction in Morocco. While the overthrowing of the corrupt dictatorship has brought smiles to many faces, there are some who express concern that the troubles of Tunisia might be contagious. Even more mixed has been the reporting by the international media. Ibn Warraq investigates.
For the first time in the month of protests, the demonstration on Friday also included large numbers of women — almost none wearing veils — and many snapping cellphone pictures of the crowd to post on the Internet. - The New York Times
For the New York Times, the notable thing was that many female demonstrators were not wearing veils. Really? Haroon Moghul, Executive Director of The Maydan Institute, a consulting and communications project devoted to enhancing understanding between Muslims and the West, writing in Religion Dispatches, takes issue...If, instead, it had been veiled women calling for democracy, would their protests have been any less meaningful? If so, we’d probably make this calculation: If their governments had stifled their society, that’s the fair trade we make to keep the bearded barbarians and headscarved hordes in check. I say “probably” because indeed we did: Tunisia was a close American ally in the war on terror, much as we cozy up, time and time again, to vile leaders who use the Islamist bogeyman to crack down on human rights for those human types.
And while on "the veil", it is interesting that Tunisia always pointed to the fact that Tunisia was "modern" because women were not ordered to cover their heads and that it was not the case in neighbouring countries. That is simply nonsense. The fact that in most "modern" Muslim countries choice of wearing a head covering is the norm. For the record the countries where head covering is optional include; Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Yemen, and Bahrain.
Many media outlets have noted the lack of "Islamist fundamentalists" in Tunisia, without also pointing out that the Ben Ali regime had cracked down on Islamists to the point where many fled overseas. It was not simply that women were not required to cover their heads, but that observing the fasting month of Ramadan could bring the forces of the state down upon you. Observing Ramadan is not "fundamentalist".
Middle East expert and correspondent for ‘The Independent’ newspaper in Britain, Robert Fisk, was asked by Euronews journalist Seamus Kearney for his thoughts about the wider implications of the crisis in Tunisia. While discounting any flow over effects, he went on to say' “Well it should be a warning, particularly to Egypt, to Jordan, it should be a warning to Morocco, which has been clapping its hands at the departure of Mr Ben Ali a bit late in the day."
“But the idea that these manifestations against dictatorship and corruption and so on are going to flip flop across borders I cannot believe." Robert Fisk
“The fear of “Islamism” is so great that the European Union, individual Western Countries, America will not want this to contaminate other countries in the region. But the leaders – they’re shaking in their boots all right, and good for them.”
While I generally agree with Fisk and have great admiration for his understanding of the Muslim world, I take issue that our leaders are "shaking in their boots".
The Moroccan government, by contrast, has welcomed developments and issued the following statement - The Kingdom of Morocco, which has followed with great concern the major tragic events that took place in brotherly Tunisia, expresses "feelings of deep solidarity" with the Tunisian people as a whole in this delicate and crucial period of its history.
Recalling the brotherly and historical ties between the Moroccan and Tunisian peoples and their particular attachment to their common Maghreban destiny, the Kingdom of Morocco expresses hope that the different political constituents and all Tunisian active and creative forces will find through the required serenity and the fruitful national dialogue "the paths to peace, stability and harmony that will ensure individual and collective tranquility and progress to the Tunisian brothers," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
In this respect, adds the statement, the Kingdom of Morocco calls on the international community to bring as soon as possible its support to the efforts deployed in Tunisia with a view to meeting the legitimate aspirations of the great brotherly Tunisian people.
"The stability of this country is essential and fundamental to regional security and stability, particularly in the Maghreb," underlined the statement.
Tunisia's interim president, Foued Mebazaa, yesterday vowed "a complete break with the past" to calm fears that the revolution was being hijacked by the presence of the dictatorship's ruling party in the interim government.
In his first televised speech, Mebazaa promised a "revolution of dignity and freedom" following the ousting of Tunisia's dictator president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, after four weeks of street protests. Mebazaa promised to honour "all the legitimate aspirations of the uprising".
Yesterday, as the interim cabinet held its first meeting, around 500 protestors, mostly the radical left and trade unions, took to the streets in central Tunis demanding that the ruling RCD party be excluded. But the mood in the capital was lightening.
Unlike previous days, the protesters on Bourguiba Avenue were not teargassed or beaten but were instead allowed to stand peacefully protesting until nightfall. Political prisoners, including a key dissident journalist, began to be released, the curfew was shortened, cafes reopened and people milled to work. In the narrow streets of the old medina, tourists were bartering over bags.
Other developments inside Tunisia are also hopeful. Only last week, the dissident blogger Slim Amamou was handcuffed to a chair in the notorious interrogation rooms of Tunisia's interior ministry being psychologically tormented by the dictator's henchmen and led to believe that the screams he could hear from neighbouring rooms was his family members being tortured.
It's a sign of the dizzying speed of change in Tunisia that today he was being sworn in by the prime minister as minister for youth and sport, live-tweeting that the first clash between members of the ruling RCD party was over the fact that "I'm not wearing a tie.".
Amamou is the CEO of a web development company and calls himself a "partisan of the neutrality of the net". A member of the Pirate party, inspired by the Swedish movement, he has been active on the underground blogger's circuit for many years. In a brutally repressive dictatorship, with the world's most advanced internet censorship technology, rivalling that of China or north Korea, Amamou and his fellow bloggers circulated news and videos in the name of protesting against the repressive regime.
An activist in the once banned Islamist Ennahda party, Azizi Tej stood in the crowd of demonstrators chanting "Tunisia is free". Tej had been imprisoned three times, tortured, had staged a series of hunger strikes, and had now taken to the streets with the secular radical left. He wanted the remnants of Tunisia's old regime, the RCD party, to be excluded from the temporary caretaker government.
"The Islamists want democracy," Tej said. "Lots of us were tortured, it was our Guantánamo Bay. We've paid a high price and now some people want to paint us as monsters, we're not. My religion teaches that I must accept others. We're proud to share the same God, Jews and Christians are our brothers. We don't refuse women's freedoms, we don't refuse tourism – people would die of hunger if we didn't have tourism."
At least on that final point almost all Moroccans would agree.