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Tunisia: Visit of an Egyptian Islamist Preacher Causes Uproar

Wajdi Ghonim, an Egyptian Islamist preacher, has recently visited Tunisia, where he gave a series of religious lectures. His visit has been the centre of a heated debate on citizen media. Although, more than 10,000 people attended Ghonim's various lectures, it seems he was not that welcome in Tunisia.

Indeed, Ghonim's visit has angered many in Tunisia, because of his support for female genital mutilation (FGM). On several occasions, he described female circumcision as a mere “plastic surgery”. He also considers the principles of democracy as “forbidden in Islam”.

Female genital mutilation

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines FGM as all “procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”. Such procedures have severe consequences, such as childbirth complications, infertility, and urinary tract infections. FGM is unpopular in Tunisia, but still the visit of Ghonim, a supporter of FGM, outraged netizens.

Lilith raises [fr] the following question:

Les Mutilations Génitales Féminines, bientôt en Tunisie ?

FGM soon in Tunisia?

She writes:

Ces pratiques sont inexistantes en Tunisie et ne font partie d'aucune de nos traditions (…) Par ses incitations à l’excision, en accusant d’apostasie ceux qui s’y opposent, et par la banalisation de cette pratique, en la décrivant comme une simple opération esthétique qui honore la femme, Wagdi Ghoneim imprègne insidieusement les esprits de ses admirateurs…

These practices do not exist in Tunisia, and do not belong to our traditions (…) With his incitement to FGM, by accusing all those who oppose it of apostasy, and by trivializing the practice, when describing it as a simple plastic surgery which honors women, Wajdi Ghonim is insidiously filling out the spirits of his fans…

Sophie-Alexandra Aiachi, states that Tunisian women need to learn more about FGM in order to protect their achievements. She writes [fr] for the collective blog Nawaat.org:

Le Code du Statut Personnel regroupant plusieurs lois progressistes tuinsiennes, promulgées le 13 aout 1956 mises en application sous Habib Bourguiba peu apres l’indépendance du pays, a permis de donner a la femme une place unique et privélégiée d’abord dans la société tunisienne puis dans le monde arabe. Différentes lois progressistes peuvent illustrer le CSP comme le fait d’abolir la polygamie ou de permettre le divorce.

Ainsi, la femme tunisienne doit savoir défendre ses acquis et pour cela, elle doit comprendre la signification, l’origine et enfin la manière dont cette pratique s’est ancrée dans les mentalités, afin de pouvoir la combattre.

The Code of Personal Status (CSP), regrouping Tunisian progressive laws put into effect on August, 13, 1956, right after independence, under the rule of Habib Bourguiba, has allowed women to have a unique, and privileged position, first in the Tunisian society, and then in the Arab region. The different progressive laws of the CSP, prohibits polygamy, and permits divorce.

Tunisian women have to learn how to defend their achievements, and that is why they need to understand the significance, the origins, and the manner of how this practice has taken root into the minds, in order to combat it.

She carries on defining FGM, stating the reasons behind it, and explaining its link to religion. You can read here the whole article in French.

Xander, wrote an article explaining how FGM is a “strange practice to Islam”. He says [fr]:

il faut souligner que l’excision féminine (khafd) n’a aucun fondement dans le Coran et aucun verset ne la cite explicitement ou implicitement(…)La pratique était répandue dans la Jahilia… Elle a aujourd’hui quasiment disparu partout dans le monde musulman sauf en Egypte (où elle est également réalisée par certains coptes) et dans certaines régions de l’Afrique subsaharienne (…)L’islam n’est pas cela, il est avant tout compréhension de l’essence du texte et guide. L’islam a aujourd’hui, un terrible besoin de réflexion, de contextualisation et de recul, loin des prêches de prédicateurs incultes et violents.

There is a need to lay emphasis on the fact that FGM does not have any basis in the Quran, and there is no verse which mentions it neither explicitly, nor implicitly (…) The practice was spread during Al-Jahiliyyah (the period prior to Islam)…The practice has disappeared across the Islamic world except in Egypt (where it is also practiced by some Copts), and in some regions of Sub-Saharan Africa…This is not Islam. Islam is first of all the understanding of the essence of the text, and the guide. Today, Islam is in an urgent need for reflection, contextualization, and thinking, away from the preachings of uncultivated, and violent preachers.

Riadh El Hammi had a different opinion. He tweeted [fr]:

Les “progressistes” préfèrent se focaliser sur l'excision… un détail futile qui n'est pas d'actualité en Tunisie. #Ghonim

“Progressives” prefer to focus on FGM, a pointless detail that is not up to date in Tunisia

Ghonim has the right to express himself

Others argue that the Tunisian law guarantees Ghonim the right to express himself, as long as he does not break the law.

Amira Yahyaoui tweeted [fr] on February 12:

Selon la loi tun la liberté d'association et de circulation sont garanties alors si #ghonim veut parler qu'il parle et s'il dérape plainte.

According to Tunisian law, freedom of assembly and movement are guaranteed, so if Ghonim wants to speak, let him speak, but if he skids, a complaint can be lodged.

She adds [fr]:

Selon la loi tunisienne il est interdit de faire des meetings appelant à la violence ou à la haine, voilà. #ghonim

According to Tunisian law, it is prohibited to organize meetings calling for violence, and hatred, that's it

Karime Seliti addressed [ar] the following question to those who he described as “claiming to be modern and secular”:

ألستم من المنادين بحرية الفكر و التعبير و المعتقد، أوليس الشيخ وجدي غنيم يعبر عن رأي و يطرح أفكارا و يعتقد معتقدا يشاركه فيه جانب هام من مواطنيكم، لماذا ضقتم ضرعا بمحاضراته و أفكاره و رفعتم القضايا ضده لمجرد أفكاره، لماذا تحاولون تكميم الأفواه و طرد الشيخ من البلاد لمجرد القاء محاضرات الهزل و الضحك فيها أكثر من الجد، ألا يناقض هذا مع قيمكم الكونية وأخلاقياتكم العلمانية،. هل صار كل من يطرح فكرة تختلف عن أفكاركم تتهمونه بالدعوة للعنف والتطر

Aren't you calling for freedom of thought, expression, and religion? Isn't Sheikh Wajdi Ghonim expressing an opinion, raising issues, and believing in something shared by most of your citizens? Why are you fed up with his lectures, and ideas? Why did you lodge complaints against him? Why are you seeking to shut mouths, and expel him from the country, for giving lectures characterized by a tune that is more humorous than serious? Isn't this contradicting your universal values, and secular ethics…Aren't you accusing anyone having different ideas from yours, of calling for violence, and extremism?

As long as Ghonim is still in Tunisia, the debate seems far from over. Amid all this uproar, Meriem tweeted [fr] the following, using the hash tag #bhema (which means idiocy in Tunisian dialect):

#TNAC ils nous ont bien eu ac cette histoire de #ghonim entre temps ils ont pas écrit un seul mot de la constitution #tunisie #bhema

They got us with this #ghonim story, and meanwhile they did not write a single word in the constitution #tunisie #bhema

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