On May 27, Tunisians plan to march for the ability to eat in public before sunset during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Since the Arab Spring brought a more secular government to power in the North African country, religious freedom issues have sprung up in unlikely places. Many restaurants close their doors until sunset, when Muslims break their fast during Ramadan.
Last year, a court in the Northern Tunisian town of Bizerte sentenced four men to one month in prison for eating and smoking in a public garden before sunset, when the celebratory meal of Iftar can begin. While Tunisia has no specific law prohibiting people from eating in public during the fast time, the government does have a vague duty to promote Islam.
Last Thursday, protesters took to the streets for “
#مش_بالسيف,” or “#MouchBessif,” a slogan that means “Nothing can be against our will.”
— تلسكوب نيوز (@TNNArabic) May 17, 2018
A protest event page from last year listed many demands including “open all cafes and restaurants, eating and drinking in the public road as a personal freedom, creed and faith personal and spiritual freedom in Tunisia for all regardless of religions, Tunisia is a civil state and not an Islamic state, [and] secularism is the solution to coexistence with all.”
“MouchBessif” activists are planning a mass protest on May 27, marking the second year of protests, Albawaba reported. Non-Muslims and Muslims have joined together to protest for religious freedom, with even some Muslims fighting for other people’s right to eat in public during Ramadan.
Many protesters have called on the government to acknowledge the 2011 constitution’s provisions for religious freedom.
“We dont attack any religion or belief. On the contrary we call for freedom of belief and conscience,” one activist tweeted.
لا نهاجم اي دين و أي معتقد
بل بالعكس ندعو لحرية المعتقد و الضمير #مش_بالسيف
— Rahma Essid (@c_essid) May 21, 2018
An Egyptian user tweeted his desire to get the campaign started in his country. “Tunisians launched the campaign ‘MouchBessif’ to break their fast during Ramadan in public because of personal freedom. Wishing they could do it here in Egypt,” the man tweeted.
There are thousands of Christians, Jews, and even a few hundred Baha’i in Tunisia. While the constitution upholds freedom of religion, it also stipulates that only a Muslim can be president and that Islam is the official religion. The government prohibits efforts to proselytize, but changing religions is legal. Muslims who decide to leave Islam face great societal pressure.