Topless feminists protest Islamist oppression



Source: AFP (Amy)

Bare-breasted activists staged rallies in front of mosques and Tunisian embassies in Berlin and across Europe Thursday against what they called an Islamist crackdown on Arab women’s rights.

Protesters from the Ukrainian women’s power group Femen held “International Topless Jihad Day” in capitals such as Berlin, Kiev and Paris and painted their torsos with slogans including “Bare breasts against Islamism.”

“We’re free, we’re naked, it’s our right, it’s our body, it’s our rules, and nobody can use religion, and some other holy things, to abuse women, to oppress them,” Femen member Alexandra Shevchenko said at a small demonstration in front of a Berlin mosque amid temperatures near the freezing point.

“And we’ll fight against them. And our boobs will be stronger than their stones.”

The rallies targeted in particular the case of a Tunisian activist calling herself Amina Tyler who sparked a scandal last month when she posted pictures of herself online with the words “My body belongs to me” and “Fuck your morals” emblazoned across her naked breasts.

Supporters fear she could face criminal prosecution.

Police in Kiev detained two young activists with “Free Amina” on their exposed chests immediately after their arrival in front of the city’s sole mosque.

Around two dozen topless feminists in Paris whose bodies were tagged with “No Islamists” and “No sharia” tried to approach the Tunisian embassy but were deterred by police as they emerged from the subway, an AFP photographer said.

And in Brussels a small group of women stripped to the waist gathered in front of the Grand Mosque shouting “Fuck your morals” and “Free Amina”, while three protested briefly outside the Tunisian consulate in Milan.

Tunisia was once seen as one of the Arab world‘s most progressive countries on women’s rights.

But NGOs have accused the Islamist party Ennahda, which came to power after the revolution that overthrew Zine El Abidine Ben Ali‘s regime in 2011, of seeking to roll back women’s rights. They say those rights must be enshrined in a new constitution expected this year.

The Femen group has been making headlines since 2010 for eye-catching protests against various causes since 2010.

‘Stone her to death’: Tunisian preacher demands protester, 19, is executed for posting topless pictures on Facebook


Source : (Martin Ray)

A Ukrainian women’s rights group is calling for a ‘topless revolution’ in Tunisia after a Muslim preacher demanded a girl who posted naked pictures of herself online be stoned because she is an ‘epidemic’.

FEMEN, which regularly stages high-profile naked protests, is declaring April 4 the day of ‘relentless topless jihad against Islamism‘ in a bid to jump-start a new Arab Spring for women’s rights.

Amina Tyler, 19, caused outrage in her native Tunisia last week when she posted topless photos of herself on her Facebook page.

FEMEN protester Amina Tyler pictured on her Facebook page
FEMEN protester Amina Tyler pictured on her Facebook page
The naked truth: Amina Tyler, 19, caused outrage in her native Tunisia last week   when she posted topless photos of herself on her Facebook page in a protest over women’s rights

The teenager, who is an FEMEN activist, can be seen smoking a cigarette with Arabic words written across her chest in black that translates into English as: ‘My body belongs to me.’

It is unclear from reports in the Arab press whether Amina posted these photos while in Tunisia.

Reports in Europe and the U.S. have stated that Amina has been taken by her parents to a psychiatric hospital in Tunis, which have been confirmed by FEMEN leader Inna Shevchenko in Paris.


Tunisian media said that if Amina committed the offence in her own country, she could be punished by up to two years in prison and be given a fine between £40 and £400 pounds.

Yet her act has caused conservative religious leaders there to take laws into their own hands.

Recent reports claim that FEMEN’s Facebook account was hacked and that one page been infiltrated with videos and pictures on the site with verses from the Koran.

Extreme views: Salafist preacher Adel Almi (pictured) called for Amina to be ‘quarantined’ and stoned to death after comparing her to someone with a contagious illness

‘Thanks to God we have hacked this immoral page and the best is yet to come,’ read one message signed by ‘al-Angour,’ an apparent hacker.

Salafist religious leaders in Tunisia want Amina to be stoned to death.

Tunisian newspaper AssabahNews quoted Salafi preacher Adel Almi, who heads the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, saying: ‘According to God’s law, she deserves 80 to 100 lashes, but what she committed is worth much more than that.

‘She deserves to be stoned to death and she must be quarantined because what she did is an epidemic.’

‘She is like someone suffering from a serious and contagious illness and she must be secluded and treated,’ he added.

FEMEN responded with a statement condemning ‘barbarian threats of the Islamists’ and said that April 4 will mark the ‘beginning of a new, genuine Arab Spring, after which true freedom, freedom without mullahs and caliphs, will come to Tunisia!

‘Long live the topless jihad against infidels!’ before ending on a high note: ‘Our tits are deadlier than your stones!’

A petition and an international day of action on April 4 to highlight the threats against Amina have been organised by the group.

More than 10,000 people have already signed the petition that called for those who threatened Amina’s life to be prosecuted.

A spokesman for Human Rights Watch said: ‘The comments of the Tunisian preacher Adel Almi saying that Amina Tyler should be stoned to death could put her at serious risk of being harmed.

Statement: A FEMEN protester is hauled away during a demonstration at the Italian elections last monthStatement: A FEMEN protester is hauled away during a demonstration at the Italian elections last month


 ‘The Tunisian state should react at the very least by condemning these words and protecting her from physical assault, and investigate if the crime of inciting violence has taken place.’

Last month, FEMEN brought together Iranian women in Sweden, who took to the streets of Stockholm demonstrating against the Hijab (Islamic headscarf).

One of its leaders also recently condemned Elmar Brok, a powerful German MEP in the European parliament for seeking the services of Ukrainian prostitutes, an accusation which he has yet to deny.

Tunisia is going through a period of turbulence with human rights a central theme of street demonstrations.

Backlash: FEMEN is declaring April 4 the day of 'relentless topless jihad against Islamism' in a bid to jump-start a new Arab Spring for women's rightsBacklash: FEMEN is declaring April 4 the day of ‘relentless topless jihad against Islamism’ in a bid to jump-start a new Arab Spring for women’s rights

Protesters on Monday demanded the resignation of Tunisia’s minister for women’s affairs, Sihem Badi, accusing her of defending a children’s nursery where a three-year-old girl was raped, according to the French news agency AFP.

The toddler was raped repeatedly by the caretaker of a nursery in a smart suburb of the capital, according to the police, which led to an arrest of the suspect.

Yet early indications are suggesting that he may escape prosecution following the minister’s comments which seemed to shift the blame to the family and hinted that he would ‘no measures against the caretaker were needed’ according to AFP.

‘Three weeks ago, my life turned into a nightmare. When I imagine my daughter, who weighs 10 kilos, in the hands — and on several occasions — of this 55-year-old caretaker, I have only one wish, to die,’ the father of the victim told the French news wire.

‘The children’s nursery is still open despite what happened to my daughter,’ he added, his voice welling with emotion.


Tunisia: Can niqabs and bikinis live side-by-side?



Two years after the long-time government was ousted in Tunisia, some women are enjoying their freedom to wear Islamic clothes such as the niqab, while others are afraid of losing their rights, reports Caroline Anning.

Arije Nasser greets me in her living room in the dusty, wind-blown Tunisian town of Gafsa with the traditional two kisses on the cheek – but through a swathe of black material.

The 22 year-old English student chose to put on the niqab – the full Muslim veil which leaves only the eyes showing – after the Tunisian revolution in 2011.

“I feel like a princess when I walk down the street wearing this,” she says. “The niqab and even the hijab were forbidden before the revolution, but now we feel more comfortable to practise our religious activities.”

Ms Nasser, and other conservative Tunisians like her, have benefited from the new-found religious freedom in post-revolutionary Tunisia.

With an Islamist party now holding the majority of seats in government, the aggressively secular policies of the old regimes are out, while beards and veils are increasingly in on Tunisia’s streets.

That has some Tunisian women worried.

At a recent demonstration, around 800 people pushed down Avenue Habib Bourguiba in central Tunis, chanting for a “secular state” and against “the party of the Brotherhood”.

Several middle-aged women were pulling reluctant, gauche teenage girls off the pavement. “March with us – this is your future too” they urged.

“Tunisia has always been an advanced country in the Arab world when it comes to women’s rights, but now unfortunately our rights are threatened,” blogger Lina Ben Mhenni explained, away from the crowd, the Tunisian flag draped over her shoulders.

“Before the revolution we used to ask for more rights, for total equality, but now we’re just trying to preserve and keep the rights we already have,” she said.

Topless protestUnder President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisian women enjoyed more freedoms than their sisters elsewhere in the Arab world.

They can divorce on equal terms and polygamy is banned – in many Muslim countries, men are allowed to take up to four wives – although the law still grants men a greater share of inheritance.

The new government, dominated by the Islamist Ennahda party, has not taken away those rights.

Said Ferjani, a senior member of Ennahda’s political bureau, said it “is not looking to impose a lifestyle on anyone, we are here to defend freedom”.

The party stepped down in a fight over the wording of the new constitution – the draft text had originally referred to “complementarity” between women and men in the family in line with Ennahda’s ideology, but after an outcry from women’s groups it was changed to “equality”.

“Just look at this girl who did a topless protest,” said Mr Ferjani. “We protect her rights, but we also protect the rights of women to wear the niqab.”

Amina, a 19 year-old Tunisian student, is the topless girl he refers to.

She created a Tunisian Facebook group for the international feminist movement Femen, which uses nudity as a form of protest, and posted a bare-breasted photo of herself with the words “my body is mine, not somebody’s honour” written on her chest in Arabic.

Ennahda officials may not openly oppose Amina’s actions, but other conservatives do.

A prominent Salafist cleric has called for her to be flogged and stoned to death.

‘Rediscovering religion’Many Tunisian women feel that their rights are under threat.

“I think the situation for women in Tunisia now two years after the fall of the regime is mixed,” said Amna Guellali, director of Human Rights Watch in Tunisia.

She admitted nothing has changed on the legal level regarding the status of women or indeed in her own life, but said “big changes are happening deep in society”.

“There are more hardliners, more of these so-called Salafist groups who tend to impose their own vision of society and religion – I think this might have a very strong effect on women.”

women swimming in tunisia - one in a bikini, the other covered up

Anecdotally, Tunisia is becoming outwardly more conservative.

It remains liberal compared to many of its neighbours; many women are unveiled and even imams and Ennahda officials will often shake a woman’s hand.

But more people are choosing to wear the veil, which was officially banned under the old regime.

It is also now not uncommon to see men wearing the garb of the conservative Salafist Islamists – long beard, skull cap and a thobe.

Some women report feeling pressured to start wearing the veil, while young men told me they have been ordered by conservatives to stop drinking or playing dominos.

Sheikh Mohammed Moncef Nasser, a schoolteacher and the imam at a local mosque in the central city of Gafsa, said he has seen a resurgence in interest in Islam since the revolution.

“People are rediscovering their religion, it’s natural,” he said. “At dawn prayers I used to only have one row of worshippers – now it’s five or six, mostly young people.”


‘Personal choice’

Many secularists see this as evidence of foreign influence, particularly from countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

But for Tunisian Islamists, it is a case of publically reclaiming their Muslim and Arab identity after years of being suppressed by the regimes of Mr Ben Ali and Habib Bourguiba.

“I was so happy when I was able to wear the niqab,” said Ms Nasser.

As we chatted, she checked her smart phone for messages from her fiancee using fingers clad in black gloves.

This is all because of the presence of her male cousin; when he leaves the room, she lifts the veil to show me her pretty, round face.

“I study and I succeed in my studies, I have a love story, I live a normal life,” she said.

“The niqab is not an obstacle for me. But that is my personal choice – people must be educated in Islam, it can’t be forced on them.”

She revealed that when she first started wearing the niqab, there were only a handful of other women in Gafsa doing the same.

“Now, I would estimate there are about 30 of us.”


‘Giving Salafism a bad name’

The fears that secular, liberal women have when they see women like her stems from two things, Ms Nasser believes.

Tunisian women protesting

One is that people are simply not used to seeing what she called “real Islamists” in Tunisia.

The other is that certain groups of Salafists – what are termed here “jihadi”, as opposed to “scientific” Salafists – are giving Islamists a bad name.

Jamal Bouthouri, a Salafist imam from Kesserine, agrees.

Sitting in the small office of the car garage where he works, the 23 year-old says the media have exaggerated problems between women and conservative Islamists.

“People in Tunisia are always talking about this, but they are wrong.

“The fears of Tunisian women are down to ignorance about our ideology, and there are some Salafists who give Salafism a bad name,” he admits.

“Our relation with women is based on respect and that each one respects his or her tasks in this life.

“What we see today is that we have entered into confusion about men’s tasks and women’s tasks,” Mr Jamal adds.

It is remarks like that which have some Tunisian women concerned.

There is a pervasive belief among the party’s opponents that Ennahda is quietly working with the Salafists.

Mr Ferjani tried to calm their fears: “Ennahda believes people can speak out and cherish whatever they wish to, so long as they are peaceful. If you are peaceful, wear the niqab [or] a bikini on the beach. Just don’t try to impose your lifestyle on the others,” he said.

For Samira Aloui, a teacher from Kesserine, and other women like her, those sentiments ring hollow.

“Ennahda is two-faced,” she said. “We don’t know what to believe with them – they use religion as a front. But when it comes to women’s rights, we want to go forward not back.”