Tunisians hit the streets for Women's Day celebrations Tuesday amid an intensely divided political atmosphere in the country. Simultaneous rallies held by the majority Ennahdha party and the opposition parties reflected the political split among citizens.
Meant to celebrate the national holiday, the rallies come after weeks of ongoing pro- and anti-government protests following the July 25 assassination of opposition politician Mohamed Brahmi.
Women's Day celebrates the 57th anniversary of the Code of Personal Status, the country's bedrock women's rights legislation. The law banned polygamy, guaranteed equal pay and education for women, and addressed issues of divorce, inheritance, and custody of children. To this day, the law is perceived as one of the most progressive in the Arab world. [display_posts type=”related” limit=”3″ position=”right”]
Many believe that the former authoritarian ruler Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali used the holiday to internationally promote Tunisia's image and secular governance.
Yesterday's Ennahdha-organized rally started at approximately 5:00 p.m. on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in downtown Tunis.
The rally included speeches from prominent female party and National Constituent Assembly (NCA) members, Quranic recitations, music and poetry.
Politicians who addressed the crowd touched on the ongoing political crisis and took the opportunity to criticize the opposition.
You are so-called democrats; how can you ask to dissolve the NCA and government and remove governors in cities? And then what? asked Wassila Zoghlami, a member of Ennahdha's bureau of women and family affairs. You have no alternative, this is the game of democracy.
Some attendees struck a similar confrontational tone.
I was a political prisoner and came here today to turn things around, said Nedia Ghribi, an attendee at the rally. I and my children suffered oppression under Ben Ali for being Islamist. We suffered night raids and prison. I'm here to guarantee my children’s rights to have a better future.
Only Islamists can guarantee such life to our society, Ghribi added. People at Bardo are not Islamists and want to instill principles and a way of life different from our identity and religion. This is a Muslim country and whoever doesn't accept that can leave.
Others, however, said they were focused on the occasion of Women's Day and celebrating the role of women in the country.
I'm a Nahdhaoui [member of the Ennahdha party] and proud and I'm here to celebrate Women’s Day, said Basma Ghalab, a housekeeper who attended the demonstration. Before I never celebrated the occasion, but after the revolution we feel more free and outgoing.
In the separate opposition rally, citizens, politicians, and activists marched from Bab Saadoun in central Tunis to Bardo Square, the plaza in front of the NCA and site of ongoing pro- and anti-government demonstrations.
At Bardo, the rally featured speeches from Bassma Khalfaoui Belaid and Mbarka Brahmi, widows of slain opposition politicians Brahmi and Chokri Belaid. Both women blamed the current government for their husbands' death.
Mbarka Brahmi delivered a pointed insult to the government and added we want them out of our country.
Hamma Hamami, leader of the opposition Worker's Party, part of the Popular Front opposition coalition, addressed the rally with remarks on the occasion and comments on the opposition's strategy moving forward. [display_posts type=”same_author” limit=”3″ position=”right”]
“Don’t forget that the first woman who shouted and participated in the revolution in Sidi Bouzid was wearing a traditional Tunisian dress. Don’t forget about our female martyrs from Thela and Rgueb [Kasserine],” he said, referring to the 2010-2011 protests which eventually ousted former president Ben Ali.
“Tunisian women have always been present, always,” he added.
Hamami also reiterated standing opposition demands for the dissolution of the NCA and government followed by formation of a national salvation government. He said such a government should consist of 15 people and be led by a national figure, but did not propose any names.
At both rallies, the atmosphere was largely celebratory with music and poetry interjected among political slogans. Attendees from outside of Tunis traveled to the capital for both rallies.
Farah Samti and Nissaf Slama contributed reporting.