Thomas S. Kidd – From Arab Spring, Winter is Coming Amid the eclipse of religious liberty, is tiny Tunisia showing the way to the light?
By Thomas S. Kidd, April 05, 2012
The Arab Spring has turned into a dark winter for religious liberty. This is especially clear in Egypt, where the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and fundamentalist Salafists have taken control of the process of framing a new Egyptian constitution, largely excluding Coptic Christians and those supporting a democratic society. Appalling violence against Christians has convulsed Egypt in the year since Hosni Mubarak’s deposal, with churches burned, dozens killed, and hundreds injured.
The military officers who removed Mubarak from power have also made little progress toward handing authority back to civilian officials. Yet Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced recently that the Obama administration was restoring military aid to Egypt.
In at least one North African nation, however, there is reason for cautious optimism. Tunisia’s Muslim leaders have chosen to take a more moderate, accommodating approach, declaring that traditional Islamic law, or Sharia, would not form the basis of a new constitution. The Arab Spring actually began in Tunisia, a small Mediterranean country of ten million people wedged between Libya and Algeria. Prior to the ouster of its dictatorial president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia was perhaps the most secular Muslim-dominated nation in the Middle East. Alcohol was openly sold, polygamy was outlawed, and sometimes one might see bikini-clad women strolling along beaches. As in Egypt, the secular authoritarian government of Ben Ali suppressed Islamist movements, fearing fundamentalist uprisings and terrorism.
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