Tunisia Pushes Back Against Radicalism
Tunisian Education Minister Taieb Baccouche announced on Tuesday (April 5th) that wearing the niqab in educational institutions would remain prohibited.
"The niqab is categorically rejected in educational institutions and cannot be allowed at all, because there is no relationship between that attire and Islam," the minister said. The move came after a number of women chose to don the veil after the January 14th revolution.
The minister's decision was warmly welcomed by many in the education establishment. Student Rayan Nouri agreed with the decision because the niqab was a barrier to communication.
"We are a mixed community, where there is no separation between genders. I believe that there is no room for the niqab here. Besides, it can be taken advantage of to cheat during exams," Nouri said.
Wearing the niqab in educational institutions is not feasible because schools need to identify those entering, school guard Abd Hakim Ben Arbia said.
Regulations require that students in Tunisia maintain proper attire, prohibiting beards or clothing foreign to the country's tradition or that which separates one sect from another.
"So, the hijab only must be permitted because it is not a problem and is allowed," Ben Arbia added.
"The niqab is not a religious requirement, it is a new phenomenon, alien to our traditions," Noha Maazaoui commented. "I think that if it is permitted to spread, any one will be able to use it to commit crimes anonymously, which will create security problems that must be addressed before it is too late."
"Women who want to wear the niqab have a right to, provided that they do not impose it on others," Mustapha Meftah said. "If they wish to enter a place that requires lifting the face veil, they should do so."
Nevertheless, Meftah said that the best solution that fits within Tunisian culture was the hijab. The hijab has also grown in popularity since the revolution ended the ban on its use. In early April, authorities permitted images of veiled women on national ID cards.
According to the interior ministry, the new procedure falls within the framework of "on-going reforms in order to uphold the principles and values of the revolution and ensure actual respect for public and individual freedoms".
The decision was a victory for the Muslim community against repression, according to the Committee for the Defence of Veiled Women.
The ban on the hijab was first implemented in 1981, when the Tunisian government issued the famous "108 Decree" that outlawed sectarian garb.
"Many veiled women bemoaned the campaigns launched by the police in the former era to remove the veil," sociology researcher Amira Riahi told Magharebia. "Women appearing with the hijab on ID cards is a right demanded by women and also a kind of freedom that women sought and are delighted to gain today, knowing that we respect human rights."
However, others said that allowing the hijab on official documents set a dangerous precedent. Teacher Sana Saidane said she saw no point in the decision "because such concessions will only invite others to ask for more".
"It is good to respond to women's demands, because banning hijab is against individual freedoms," Dorra Harrar said. "But, on the other hand, I am against promoting hijab as if it is an icon of identity."