Three European women — two French and one German — affiliated with the feminist activist group FEMEN staged a bare-breasted protest yesterday morning [May 29] in front of the Ministry of Justice in Tunis against the arrest of a fellow Tunisian activist Amina Tyler, who posted topless photos of herself online. This stunt is the first of its kind in the Arab world, where no Arab state has ever seen women using nudity in protests in a public place.
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Security forces deployed in the vicinity of the ministry arrested the foreign activists and a judicial investigation was opened about the purpose of their nude protest, which was probably staged in anticipation of the start of the trial of the feminist activist Amina, schedule for Thursday [May 30].
FEMEN had launched a global campaign of solidarity with the young Tunisian women after her arrest by Tunisian authorities.
This is the first time FEMEN activists have held their bare-breasted protests in an Arab country since the formation of the organization in Ukraine in 2008, as a protest movement to defend women's rights. This movement is renowned for staging nude protests in a number of countries around the world, especially in Europe. FEMEN rallies usually raise slogans expressing rejection of restrictions inflicted on women, according to the movement.
The Tunisian authorities had arrested Amina on May 19 in Kairouan province after her attempt to protest against Salafists planning to hold the third annual conference for Ansar al-Sharia, before it was banned by force by security forces. The Interior Ministry revealed that Amina was arrested as she was spray-painting “immoral expression” on the walls of a cemetery near the historical Okba Mosque in Kairouan. Amina did not deny these charges, and confirmed that she intended to write the word “FEMEN” on the cemetery wall. Amina, who is 18 years old, could be handed a [maximum] six-month sentence for possession of pepper spray and two years for “desecration of the cemetery.”
The Tunisian minister of women's affairs, Sihem Badi, had already refused last March to grant FEMEN a license to exercise its activities in the country “in order to preserve public morals and decency.” This came after the young Tunisian woman posted naked photos of herself online, which triggered diverse reactions toward women’s absolute freedom to expression and protest. It is worth mentioning that a large number of Tunisians expressed their rejection of these practices, considering them to be “offensive and distorting to the image of women.”
Moreover, a number of observers fear that the bare-breasted protest staged yesterday in Tunisia will backfire and adversely affect legislation and the new constitution. While jurists are calling for the cancellation of the “law on morals” — claiming it limits the individual freedoms of citizens — others were calling for the enactment of legislation for the protection of public morals, decency and sacred beliefs against these practices that jeopardize the cohesion of society and its values, according to some conservatives. Some also argued that these practices, whether performed by internal or foreign parties, are intended to divert attention from specific issues.
Some analysts believe that these practices would raise concerns among some conservative groups in Tunisia over “religion and sacred beliefs” in connection with manifestations of “extreme modernity.” Therefore, these groups are resorting to religious currents as the guardians of sacred beliefs and consider them the authority in charge of defending them from their secular enemies, which may affect voting outcomes in the upcoming elections.