President Moncef Marzouki welcomed leaders from Tunisia’s three religious faiths to the Carthage Presidential Palace, on December 19th. The Mufti of the Republic, the Chief Rabbi of Tunisia and the Archbishop of Tunis all had separate meetings with the new President.
The Chief Rabbi of Tunisia, Haim Bittan, had particularly kind words to say about his meeting with the new President.
President Marzouki assured Rabbi Bittan that all Tunisian Jews no matter what country they are currently residing in will be always welcomed back to Tunisia.
Bittan feels that the situation is now safe for Tunisian Jews to return.
“Tunisian Jews will always remain Tunisians, whether they live in Israel or in the USA. They can always come back home,” Bittan stated
According to Bittan, Marzouki expressed his desire to support the traditional Tunisian-Jewish pilgrimages as a way for the Jewish community abroad to continue connecting with Tunisia.
“President Marzouki took great interest in Jewish holidays and festivities that bring the Tunisian Jewish community from abroad to Tunisia,” said Bittan.
Bittan expressed sadness that this year only a few Tunisians came from abroad to the Hiloua for Rabbi Hai Taieb Lo Met. The Chief Rabbi said he was hopeful that after the security situation calms down in the country religious pilgrims will return.
“God willing Tunisia will get safer and Jews will come in bigger numbers in the future. The pilgrimage to El Ghariba this year was also small because those abroad did not feel like the situation was safe.”
Should the Tunisian Jewish community ever experience troubles, President Marzouki assured the Chief Rabbi that he would be available to assist them.
“President Marzouki gave me his personal number to consult him if the tiniest problems occur. He told me that he wants the future of the Jewish community to be bright and safe.”
Rabbi Bittan called the meeting with Marzouki “historic” because it was the first time a president representing the Tunisian people welcomed a Jewish Community leader to the Carthage palace as an equal member of the greater Tunisian family.
Archbishop Maroon Lahham, of the Catholic Church in Tunisia, called his meeting with Marzouki amicable and pleasant. Marzouki spoke with Lahham about churches and freedom of religion in Tunisia.
Marzouki also wanted to know if Christians were harassed in the days following the revolution.
According to Bishop Lahham, the answer was no; he had not heard of such incidents. However, some graves were vandalized in the Bourjil Christian cemetery in Tunis. Marzouki expressed his indignation towards the incident.
Lahham stressed that he feels there is a bright future for Christians in Tunisia. He referred to Ennahda as a, “moderate Islamist party,” and he was certain the new Tunisian constitution would grant total freedom of religious practice for every Tunisian.
As Christmas and New Years is coming soon, Lahham expressed that he is looking forward to celebrating the festivities this year.
While neither the Mufti of Tunisia, Othman Batikh, nor his representatives were available for comment, Samir Dilou, a Constituent Assembly member representing Ennahda and spokesman of the party, praised Marzouki’s decision to recognize religious minorities in Tunisia.
“Marzouki did a great job. Everyone who lives on Tunisian soil should enjoy the same rights regardless of their religious affiliation,” said Dilou.
Dilou also stressed that he wanted to see the next Tunisian government care about all religious minorities and make sure they were not marginalized in Tunisian society.
Ahmed Medien contributed to this story.