According to a recent statement by the Tunisian Human Rights group Committee for Defence of Veiled Women in Tunisia, the Tunisian government is continuing with vigour its harassment of Muslim women wearing the Islamic headscarf. It reports that in late August of this year, political police pressurized the owner of a factory in the city of Nabeul to dismiss employees wearing the headscarf. Earlier this month, uniformed police patrolled the weekly market of Nabeul, forcing women to uncover their heads and to sign statements pledging that they would not wear the headscarf again. This practise has reportedly become common place in streets and markets across the country.
Tunisia, a European-orientated bastion of secularism in the Muslim world, imposed a nationwide ban on the headscarf in all schools, universities and government buildings in 1981 but stepped up its enforcement of the law in 2006, launching a campaign against the dress. Many believe that this was due to a huge rise in women adorning the Islamic dress despite the ban. Girls have been harassed and expelled from schools and universities by government officers or forced to sign pledges to remove the headscarf if they wish to continue their studies. Women face losing their jobs unless they uncover. The Tunisian president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, described the headscarf as an “foreign form of sectarian dress” that had come into Tunisia uninvited and “does not fit with Tunisian cultural heritage”. The country stands alongside other secular Muslim governments such as Turkey, Syria, and Egypt that have also imposed restrictions on Islamic dress codes.
In addition, the Tunisian government has a track record of arresting, imprisoning, defaming, beating, and raping female academics, journalists, human rights activists, lawyers, students, and members of Islamic organisations who express any opposition to the Ben Ali regime or expose its corruption and injustices.
Dr. Nazreen Nawaz, Women’s Media Representative of Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain commented, “These are the actions of a desperate government clutching at straws to fight the resurgence of Islam in the country and maintain its grip of power. The large numbers of Muslim women adorning the headscarf and Islamic dress, regardless of the brutal means of repression employed by the authorities is a slap in the face of the Tunisian government. It is evident of the wide-scale rejection by Muslim women of its secular ideology and adoption of Islam as their social and political path in life. It is also a thorn in the side of the familiar narrative presented by Western governments and used to justify domestic Islamic dress code bans, that the dress is forced upon women rather than worn from their own volition.”
“For too long, Ben Ali has used the country’s Personal Status Code laws, shaped upon Western notions of gender equality as a fig leaf to hide his widespread repression of Muslim women. It is ludicrous that he labels an Islamic dress as sectarian when 98% of Tunisians are Muslims who adopt the Islam belief. If anything is sectarian, it is his secular government which is at odds with the Islamic cultural beliefs and heritage of Tunisia, with which its Muslim majority population is increasingly re-identifying with. If anything came into the country uninvited, it was French colonialism that left its ‘foreign’ remnants in the form of a Western secular orientated despotic regime that stands in opposition to the Islamic values of Tunisia’s Muslims. The true bane of Muslim women’s lives is not their dress but autocratic Muslim regimes who are the golden boys of Western governments – who cry women’s rights with one breath then flout them unashamedly with the next through their own dress code bans and support of these dictators.”
“The political battle that the Tunisian, Egyptian, Syrian, and Turkish governments are waging on the field of the Muslim woman’s dress is an unwinnable one. Muslim women across the world are returning to their Islamic roots in their droves, unconvinced by Western secular liberalism – an ideology that feels compelled to strip women of basic rights in true totalitarian fashion in order to save its skin; an ideology where the persecution of women is an acceptable price to pay to maintain seats of power. Muslim women have clearly recognised that secularism is no antidote to women’s oppression, infact in many instances it has become its perpetrator. Instead they are turning their attention, hopes, and desires to the Islamic Khilafah system. It is a state where Muslim women will be able to wear their Islamic dress under the full protection of the law, engage actively in the public life of society without hindrance, account their ruler openly without fear of retribution, and where all their rights of citizenship as enshrined within the Islamic texts will be safeguarded. It is a state that will truly transform talk of ‘women’s rights’ from rhetoric into reality.”