An Islamic militia has been legalized in Tunisia. According to the Tunisian media outlet Kapitalis, the Tunisian Ministry of Interior, lead by Ali Larayedh, chairman of the ruling Islamist party, Ennahda, has given legal status to the "Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice," an Islamic religious police established after the Tunisian Revolution by self-appointed custodians of Islamic virtues. Kapitalis reports, however, that with the legalization, the name of the Committee was changed to the "Centrist Association for Awareness and Reform" to appear less radical to the Tunisian population.
The association is composed of three committees: one focuses on the Sharia ["The Way," or Islamic religious law]; one on religious "science" and the third on juridical matters. The Centrist Association declares that its objective is to call on citizens be righteous and to follow the rule of Sharia.
Before the Association was legalized, the Tunisian media were reporting that it was being formed by Salafists [followers of the extremely conservative form of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia], who aggressively intervene in public life by occupying mosques, and verbally and physically attacking women who did not abide by the dress code that they deemed sufficiently modest.
The media outlet Tunisia Live mentions that despite the Association's having changed its name to look moderate, it is highly radical. The head of the association, Adel Almi, was accused of having "attacked" Prof. Ikbal Gharbi, known for her liberal views. Lately, Almi has come under the spotlight after he decided to forbid Prof. Gharbi -- appointed by the government to the post of Director of the religious radio station, Zitouna FM from entering her office. The reason, according to Almi, was that Prof. Gharbi had no religious background, despite her being an eminent professor at the Theological Zitouna University in Tunis.
In reality, Almi objects to a woman being in charge of a religious radio station, and for being known as a reformer with a modernist interpretation of the Qur'an. Further, Prof. Gharbi does not wear the veil and Almi belives – as he said to the Tunisian radio Mosaïque FM - that women without a veil deserve to burn in hell. Members of the association have also been accused of harassing Tunisians on Facebook, asking to fight reformists, as Prof. Gharbi.
Now that the association has been given a legal status, Kapitalis wonders whether Tunisians' individual freedoms are going to be attacked. "Are the members of this new association going to be present in the public streets and question citizens perceived as not being Islamic righteous? Are the members of the association some sort of Saudi religious militia, charged with the task of directing the faithful towards the path of God? Wait and see," writes Kapitalis.
The Tunisian media outlet Investir en Tunisie reminds us that the religious police was created in Saudi Arabia in 1940 to implement Islamic rules and prescriptions, and that nowadays there are still countries with special police forces dedicated to coercing people into observing religious rules. But then Investir en Tunisie asks the central question: "Is this the fate of Tunisia? Is this post-revolutionary Tunisia?"