Some are concerned what social changes might come with the victory of Tunisia’s Islamist party in the country’s first free vote since the Arab Spring overthrow of autocratic president Ben Ali. Nahda party spokesman Riad Chaibi has offered reassurances that the new leadership does not want to deprive citizens of individual freedoms, going so far as to say that being gay is “a matter of dignity”:
Chaibi, who spent five years in prison for his opposition to dictator Ben Ali, said that in Tunisia “individual freedoms and human rights are enshrined principles” and that atheists and homosexuals are a reality in Tunisia and “have a right to exist.” According to Chaibi, in the case of homosexuals there is also “a matter of dignity, because society sees them as undervalued.”
Given that Tunisia has a history of stigmatizing and punishing people who are gay, this would be quite a bold step. Chaibi also said that women will not be forced to wear veils and people will be allowed to drink alcohol, promising a coalition government approach that values freedom. Detractors of the Nahda party have suggested that its actions in the mosques do not match its talking points to the public.
Tunisia’s neighbor, Libya, has adopted Islamic Sharia law, which suggests persecution of gays may continue there. If the Nahda party successfully follows through on its assurances, it could prove the Arab Spring’s potential for liberating the LGBT community from religious oppression in the Middle East.