On Monday evening, the end of the daytime fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan marked the start of a protest in the Tunisian capital, Tunis.
Thousands of Tunisians rallied to protest (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk) against moves by the Islamist-led government which is working on a new constitution.
Some 6,000 protesters, mostly Tunisian women, are worried that the government wants to reduce women’s rights. They also worry about the role of Islam in the constitution which is being drawn up by the new assembly.
Marching across main thoroughfares in the Tunisian capital, protesters were holding banners that read : “Rise up women for your rights” and “Ghannouchi clear off, Tunisian women are strong”, referring to Ennahda’s leader Rachid Ghannouchi.
The protesters demanded that the government turns its attention instead to basic issues like unemployment and regional development.
Before the Islamist Ennahda party won the elections last year, Tunisia was one of one of the Arab world’s most liberal nations. But recently the government has unveiled a draft constitution which refers to women as “complementary to men”.
Zine el-Abadine Ben Ali’s regime was overthrown by the mass uprising in January 2011 and the party took power last October.
The country’s ruling party is now under pressure from both hardline Salafi Muslims who are calling for the introduction of Islamic law, and secular opposition parties.
According to the country’s 1956 constitution women and men are equal, polygamy is banned and civil divorce and marriage are introduced.
Ennahda member Farida al-Obeidi chairs the constitutional assembly’s human rights and public freedoms panel. According to Reuters she said that the wording of the draft constitution is not a backward step for Tunisian women.
She said that the draft stipulates the “sharing of roles and does not mean that women are worth less than men”.
However the clause was condemned by Ahlam Belhadj, the chairperson of the Democratic Women’s Association.
She said that “major retreats usually begin with one step”.
“If we stay silent today, we will open the door to everything else and end up surprised by even more serious decisions.”