Thursday, January 29, 2015

Will women gain or lose by Tunis vote

The debate that exploded before my eyes, among women gathered at a jobs training center in Tunis, reflected the sharp rift between those who trust the Al-Nahda Islamist party, and those who fear that if it wins Sunday's elections, it will curb their rights.

Will women gain or lose by Tunis vote

Darine Hajhasin (left) opposes Islamist party, Al-Nahda, while unveiled Khawla Guesim (center) and covered Leila Mansouri (right) will vote for it. (Trudy Rubin / Staff)
Darine Hajhasin (left) opposes Islamist party, Al-Nahda, while unveiled Khawla Guesim (center) and covered Leila Mansouri (right) will vote for it. (Trudy Rubin / Staff)

The debate that exploded before my eyes, among women gathered at a jobs training center in Tunis, reflected the sharp rift between those who trust the Al-Nahda Islamist party, and those who fear that if it wins Sunday’s elections, it will curb their rights.

The arguments didn’t all reflect the dress-style a particular woman was wearing.

It wasn’t surprising that Leila Mansouri, in a long beige gown and headscarf insisted, “Al-Nahda represents Islam so it represents justice.”

But Khawla Guesim, wearing a low cut tee shirt, sun glasses, and no head scarf, didn’t look like she would support an Islamist party. She insiste: “ True I don’t wear the veil, and I don’t pray, but I will vote for Al-Nahda because there is nothing more fair than Koran to be our constitution. Al-Nahda is more trustworthy than the others.” When someone reminded her that Al-Nahda had a history of terrorism in the 1990s, she denied it; she was too young to remember those days.

Darine  Hajhasin, unveiled, in a long orange tunic, snapped back: “These people are not trustworthy. If Al-Nahda gets power, they will restore polygamy, and men wil be the only won’t be permitted to be the breadwinner. We will lose everything we’ve gained.”  

I heard these debates everywhere I went in Tunis. At one level, they are extremely healthy, in a society that could never openly engage in politics before. At another level, I was struck by how much the advocates of Al-Nahda endorsed the party for emotional reasons, rather than describing its program.

“There is no civic education here,” says Chema Gargouri, the head of the training center. “The voter doesn’t understand what IS voting or why it is important. Many people think if you separate democracy and religion this takes away their identity, and that anyone who wants to separate them is not a Muslim. It’s an emotional vote, not an intellectual vote. It’s not based on the capacity of the political parties.”

She, like every woman I spoke with, is anxiously awaiting the outcome of Sunday’s election.

Trudy Rubin Inquirer Opinion Columnist
About this blog

Trudy Rubin’s Worldview column runs on Thursdays and Sundays. In 2009-2011 she has made four lengthy trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Over the past seven years, she visited Iraq eleven times, and also wrote from Iran, Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, China, and South Korea.

She is the author of Willful Blindness: the Bush Administration and Iraq, a book of her columns from 2002-2004. In 2001 she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in commentary and in 2008 she was awarded the Edward Weintal prize for international reporting. In 2010 she won the Arthur Ross award for international commentary from the Academy of American Diplomacy.

Reach Trudy at trubin@phillynews.com.

Trudy Rubin Inquirer Opinion Columnist
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