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July 31, 2013 No.
1002

In Tunisia And Morocco, Campaigns For Freedom From Religion During The Month Of Ramadan

Introduction

During the Islamic month of Ramadan, Muslims are not allowed to eat or drink from dawn until sunset, except for those who are ill, traveling, pregnant, breastfeeding, diabetic, or menstruating. Smoking and sexual relations are also forbidden during fasting. At the end of the day, the fast is broken with prayer and a meal called the Iftar.

In Tunisia, there is no law prohibiting eating and drinking in daytime in public during the month-long holiday, and no law forcing coffee shops and restaurants to remain closed during the day; however, since the Islamist El-Nahda party's win of a relative majority in the 2011 Tunisian elections, many shops prefer to remain shut during the fasting hours.

In Morocco, on the other hand, under Article 222 of the Penal Code, dating from the era of the French protectorate, a Muslim who breaks the fast in public during Ramadan, except in instances allowed by Islam, may be subject to imprisonment for one to six months, and may also be fined.

In both countries, campaigns have been launched demanding the removal of any public restrictions. In Tunisia, this campaign has taken the form of a backlash against a self-appointed religious leader, Adel Almi, who demanded enforcement of the religious restrictions and threatened to photograph and shame those who violate them, while in Morocco, the Masayminch/We Won't Fast movement defends the right of those who choose not to fast.

Tunisia: Backlash Against Cleric Who Announced He Would Photograph People Publicly Violating Ramadan

Just before Ramadan began in mid-July, Adel Almi, president of the Al-Jamia al-Wassatia Li-TawiaWal-Islah, or the Centrist Association for Awareness and Reform, announced that he intended to photograph individuals he saw violating Ramadan prohibitions in public. He also called on Tunisian Interior Minister Lofti Ben Jeddou to take a firm position against these violators. Almi also argued that going to the beach for enjoyment is also prohibited during Ramadan.


Photoshopped image depicting Adel Almi on the prowl. Source: businessnews.com.tn, July 10, 2013.

In response to Almi's demand, a Facebook campaign, titled "Photos Taken During The Ramadan Chmeta Fi Adel Almi,"[1] was launched, on July 9, 2013; as of this writing, the page has 12.469 followers.[2] The Facebook page's "About" page says that "This page is open to all people that defiantly challenge Adel Almi, in this case, we will go to the beach and will photograph ourselves." The page features photos submitted by Tunisian readers, living either in Tunisia or abroad, of themselves eating, drinking, smoking, or violating other Ramadan prohibitions. Many of the photos show the subjects' faces, and also include their names, to show that they fully support this demand for tolerance and freedom.

The following are some of the photos from the campaign's page:[3]


Thumbs up to the campaign's Facebook page, with yogurt and biscuits.


Pizza and beer in the seaside resort of Gammarth, posted July 7, 2013. While Islam prohibits the drinking of alcohol, it can be obtained legally in Tunisia.


At the beach.


Cigarettes with coffee in Tunisia flag mug


Two women enjoy a smoke.


Inviting Adel Almi to a friendly drink; sign reads: "And for you, 'Adel'?? Sfax, July 13, 2013"

In addition to posting photos of Tunisians violating Ramadan, the Facebook campaign is calling for freeing Tunisian blogger Jabeur Mejri, who on March 28, 2012 was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for "transgressing morality, defamation, and disrupting public order" by posting cartoons depicting a nude Prophet Muhammad on Facebook. It is also taking a stand against political assassination in the country.

The campaign can also be followed on Twitter, using the hashtag #fater or #fatar – that is, one who does not fast.

Adel Almi is president of the Al-Jamia al-Wassatia Li-TawiaWal-Islah, or the Centrist Association for Awareness and Reform – formerly known as Al-Amr Bil Maârouf Wa Nahy An Al-Monkar, or the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice,[4] which was an Islamic religious police organization established after the Tunisian Revolution by self-appointed custodians of Islamic virtues. According to the Tunisian media outlet Kapitalis,[5] the organization changed its name after it was legalized in 2012, to appear less radical to the Tunisian population.

Almi was a vegetable vendor and a member of the former Tunisian ruling party Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) who became an Islamist after the Jasmine Revolution.

Morocco: Masayminch/We Won't Fast

The Masayminch/We Won't Fast movement was launched in 2012, with a closed Facebook group called Masayminch; its current Facebook page was launched June 15, 2013, and as of this writing has 1,965 followers.[6] This page's "About" page states that the movement seeks freedom of religion, but that this freedom won't come without people's determination to have their voice heard.


The Masayminch Facebook page logo.

The media outlet Afrik[7] explains that Masayminch is an offshoot of The Alternative Movement for Individual Liberties (known by its French acronym MALI), which aims to persuade the Moroccan authorities that religion is strictly a personal conviction. In 2009, several MALI activists were stopped by the police in front of a train station in Mohammedia during Ramadan, before they could demonstrate eating a meal openly. Masayminch states that its activists include members of MALI, of the Collectif Marocain des Libertés Individuelles (Moroccan Group of Individual Liberties), the Conseil des Ex-Musulmans du Maroc (Council of Former Muslims of Morocco) and activists from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt.

Afrik writes: "Sometimes, entire families do not fast during the Muslim holy month. Without generalizing, these families mainly belong to the higher classes of the kingdom. Furthermore, they are Moroccans who do not believe or are not regularly practicing [religious duties]. Actually, in Morocco, it is possible to eat during Ramadan, provided that this is done in private. Due to morals and tradition, it is considered improper to eat [in such a way] that everybody can see and everybody knows. Within the kingdom, some restaurants, such as the fast-food chain McDonald's, refuse to serve food within their premises to adult Muslims in the daytime, during Ramadan. The reason: Article 222 [of the Moroccan Penal Code, which expressly forbids eating in public during fasting hours]. Only takeout sales are authorized..."[8]

"Ramadan In Tunisia: No Law Prohibits Coffee Shops And Restaurants From Opening," Sana Sbouai – Nawaat.org, Tunisia, July 10, 2013

In an article in the Tunisian media outlet Nawaat.org, titled ""Ramadan In Tunisia: No Law Prohibits Coffee Shops And Restaurants From Opening," Sana Sbouai, a writer for the collective Tunisian blog Nawaat, explains that it is not illegal in Tunisia for coffee shops and restaurants to do business during Ramadan. Prior to the Islamist Al-Nahda party's win of a relative majority in the 2011 Tunisian elections, every business owner could decide whether or not to remain open or not. Before that, under the rule (1957-1987) of the founder and the first president of the Republic of Tunisia, Habib Bourguiba, all coffee shops and restaurants remained open. Burguiba himself once drank orange juice live on television in the middle of Ramadan.

The Tunisian media outlet Kapitalis[9] noted that in downtown Tunis, most coffee shops and tea houses keep their shops shuttered until the breaking of the fast. This, it said, does not prevent certain coffee shops and bistros from remaining open, or from discreetly serving coffee and providing a place to smoke for either those who do not fast or to tourists; it added that some passersby insult and curse those who indulge.

The following are excerpts from article:

"Twitter And Google Maps Are Used To Identify Places Open During [Ramadan]"

"On the first day of Ramadan, one question comes to the minds of all those who do not fast: where to find a place to have a meal and something to drink. Internet users gather on the Web in order to answer this question – and in order to dispel a belief that certain public figures are trying to impose, namely, that everybody is involved in fasting – whereas in reality, there is no law obliging cafés to shut down, and it is not illegal to eat and drink in public.

"For those who do not intend to fast, it is difficult to find a place to eat and drink something. In Tunisia, Internet users get around this problem; Twitter and Google Maps are used to identify places open during the day by using the hashtag #fater: 'he who doesn't fast.'

"So, the hashtag #fater emerged, allowing Internet users who do not fast to find a coffee shop or restaurant during the day. On Google Maps, the same principle is applied: users indicate on a map the places which are open to the public during the daytime."

"Internet Users Are Not Hesitating To Attack Adel Almi"

"Internet users are not hesitating to attack Adel Almi... [who] on July 8 came out saying that it was necessary to clamp down on non-fasters. [Transgressors, he said,] will be [duly] photographed and identified. He also said that having a swim in the sea was a sin.

"[After he said these things] there was an explosion of comments [online], inviting people to go the beach and eat. A Facebook page was created overnight, on which people posted their own photos showing them eating.

"Certain Internet users are wondering whether this approach is safe, since it makes these places more easily targeted by the extremists.

"According to Adel Almi, people who indulge in 'provocations against Muslims are breaking the law and should be punished.' He then appealed to the interior minister, [asking] him to take a position over this issue. [By so doing], Adel Almi used the same arguments as Religious Affairs Minister Noureddine Khadmi, who in a radio interview declared that he was referring to 'the usual legal dispositions' and to 'the general principles of the law' to support the view that fasting is the [accepted] principle and that not fasting should not be done in an ostentatious manner."

"No Law In Tunisia Forbid[s] The Opening Of Coffee Places And Restaurants During Ramadan"

"But, which law are non-fasters violating? Unlike Morocco, for example, [Tunisia] has no law criminalizing the act of eating in public during Ramadan.... As former judge and current Observatory for the Independence of Justice president Ahmed Rahmouni explains, 'There is no law which expressly forbids this.' Furthermore, administrative court judge Sami Ben Abderhamen explains, 'There is no law in Tunisia forbidding the opening of coffee places and restaurants during Ramadan.'

"Up to the mid-70s, under [Habib] Bourguiba [founder and first president (1957-1987) of the Republic of Tunisia], all coffee shops and restaurants remained open... Later, [ousted dictator Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali agreed, without any legal foundation, that every business owner had the right to decide whether he wanted to remain open or not. Today, Judge [Ben Abderhamen] finds it odd that the majority of coffee shops are closed, when no [law] obliges them to do so.

"Last year, a [ministerial] circular was [reportedly] issued, aimed at closing coffee shops. But apart from a police raid in the Ennasr neighborhood [of the capital Tunis] on the first day of Ramadan, which seemed to be aimed more at intimidating the owners than at implementing a circular whose existence remains unproven, [all] the coffee shops which usually stayed open continued to do so. 'Even if this circular really existed, it could not be taken into consideration as a basis for a judgment,' explains judge Ahmed Rahmouni."

Before The January 2011 Revolution, It Was Easy To Find Somewhere To Eat; After The Revolution, Not So Much

"...Before January 14 [2011, the date that marks the ousting of Ben Ali], those who did not observe Ramadan could easily find, at least in Tunis, a place to eat; however, after the Revolution, it is no longer so easy. 'Before, it was possible to eat without any problem, hiding from the gaze of other people out of simple respect, so as not to disturb them. It was only necessary to tape newspapers over the windows of cafés and restaurants… In fact, the problem was not hiding, but of maintaining mutual respect,' explains a young girl who doesn't fast."

"Decency Commands That... Tunisians Should Respect Each Other – Which They Always Have"

"To conclude, there is no legal restriction to eating in a public space, but decency commands that, very simply, Tunisians should respect each other, which they always have, without raising any polemic. The declarations by Adel Almi and the religious affairs minister – which were intended to guarantee 'social peace' – had [instead] the effect of inflaming the polemic and radicalizing the two camps."

*Anna Mahjar-Barducci is Research Fellow for North African Studies at MEMRI; R. Sosnow is Head Editor at MEMRI.

Endnotes:

[2] July 29, 2013.

[3] MEMRI has not posted any full-face photos, as we were unable to obtain permission from each individual.

[4] Kapitalis (Tunisia), February 20, 2012.

[5] Kapitalis (Tunisia), July 10, 2013.

[6] http://www.facebook.com/MASAYMINCH, accessed July 29, 2013.

[7] Afrik.com, July 12, 2012.

[8] Afrik.com, July 12, 2012.

[9] Kapitalis (Tunisia), July 20, 2013.