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Self-appointed Islamic religious police granted legal status in Tunisia

Country/Region: Middle East and North Africa, Tunisia

A self-appointed “committee for the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice” has been given legal status by the Tunisian government, heightening concern about individual freedoms.

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Women in "un-Islamic" dress have reportedly been attacked in Tunisia

Salafists formed the organisation – essentially an Islamic religious police – after the revolution, taking it upon themselves to see that Islamic virtues were upheld in public life. Amid an outcry from liberal Tunisian commentators, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior said that no request had been received for official recognition of the committee and that no authorisation would be granted.

But now, the head of the Ministry of Interior, Ali Larayedh, who is also chairman of the ruling Islamist party, Ennahda, has given legal status to the committee. It has been renamed the “Centrist Association for Awareness and Reform” (CAAR) in an apparent attempt to make it appear less radical to the Tunisian population.

In a revealing indication of the Association’s stance, its head, Adel Almi, said to the Tunisian radio station Mosaїque FM:

Women without a veil deserve to burn in hell.

CAAR comprises three committees: one focuses on sharia law, one on religious “science” and the third on juridical matters. It declares that its objective is to call on citizens to be righteous and follow sharia. There have been reports of Salafists verbally and physically attacking women not dressed in a manner deemed sufficiently modest.

The Tunisian media outlet Kapitalis has raised concerns about the threat to individual freedoms:

Are the members of this new association going to be present in the public streets and question citizens perceived as not being Islamic righteous? Are the members of the association some sort of Saudi religious militia, charged with the task of directing the faithful towards the path of God? Wait and see.

The legalisation of this committee is part of an emerging and increasingly Islamic picture of post-revolution Tunisia. On 20 February, it was announced that in its draft constitution, sharia is denoted as “the principal source of legislation”.

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