By Houda Trabelsi
By Houda Trabelsi
Tunis, October 20, 2011
“No for extremism! No for regression! What we want is freedom,” was one slogan chanted during the “Aatqni” march (leave me alone) called in response to the demonstrations organised by Islamists last Friday against Nessma TV.
Approximately 3,500 people gathered on Sunday (October 16th) in downtown Tunis, according to official estimates. The rally came as a response to what some described as “dictatorship in the name of God”. The slogan used was “all together against religious extremism and dictatorship”.
“Tunisia is big enough for all, no matter how different our ideologies can be,” Sana Wichteti, one of the organisers of the march, told Magharebia.
“Cohabitation is only possible through a healthy debate. Our religion, Islam, calls for that. It is a religion of love and tolerance and every Muslim should keep that in mind,” she said.
Journalist Hassan Ben Othmen told Magharebia that he came to support the freedom of expression. “It is a critical and basic subject, and we can’t make a concession on that,” he said. “I personally support the Tunisian youth who made their revolution and who are really looking for protecting their civil rights.”
The issue is not about defending religious divinity, according to journalist Salem Labben. “We are all ready to defend that, the same way we are ready to defend the interest of the motherland. The issue is connected to the definition of divinity and to setting what should be really considered as blasphemy.”
“In the past, the former regime chose the interest of the motherland for the people and its definition was made flexible to serve the whims of the regime and allow it to repress anyone. Today, divinity has become a way to limit freedom,” he added.
One young woman, Yassmine Triki, said the demonstration was not meant to defend the private TV channel Nessma. “It is meant to defend our personal freedom,” she said. “We don’t want to install a new dictatorship of Islamists after the one of Ben Ali.”
Islamist protesters also showed up to defend their position.
“These people don’t represent the Tunisian people. Those who demonstrated on Friday to express their outrage against the attack on Islam are the ones that represent the Tunisian people,” Fatma said to Magharebia. “Those are a bourgeois minority who took advantage of the Ben Ali’s regime. They want now to take advantage of our revolution in the name of secularism,” she insisted.
Blogger and Ennahda member Nizar Hadj-Kacem told Magharebia: “We support this demonstration if it is defending the freedom of expression and we also support it if it defends the civil state.”
“On the other hand, what we felt and saw during this demonstration is that the people who are calling for the freedom of speech don’t really apply it. They are excluding anyone who is against their opinion” explained Hadj-Kacem.
Others sympathised with both sides, blaming the old regime for the divide.
“At first look, the motives of the first demonstration were righteous, but the ones of the second demonstration were not wrong either. It is a contradiction that characterises our society after decades of repression which caused a bi-polar society that doesn’t really accept the other side. That will take time,” journalist Banneni said to Magharebia.
“When I look deeper, I find it pathetic that a TV channel that was a publicity channel for the regime and that didn’t show respect to the Tunisian public is now playing the role of the victim and the symbol of freedom of expression after the revolution. It also saddens me to see that a part of the Tunisian society is trying to recover its religious freedom through fanaticism”, he added.