Tunisia- A Social Revolution? Is it ever Good Time to Speak up for LGBT Rights?
Online homophobic reactions are excessively taking place on the Tunisian corner of the internet. The reactions stirred first by the unprecedented outing of an un-authenticated black and white video, filmed by a prison security camera. The video features the current Minister of Interior, Ali Laarayedh, member of the ruling moderate Islamist Party, Ennahda, in an intimate and erotic homosexual act with a fellow cellmate.
The video supposedly filmed while he was a political prisoner detained within the Interior Ministry during the dictatorial reign of Tunisia’s ousted President, Zine Abedine Ben Ali. The latter is known for such games of attacking his opponents’ honor to enclose them.
Secular and leftist political parties denounced the immoral exploitation of the materials. Masses gathered in front of the Ministry of Interior to express support of the newly appointed Minister.
The claimed fake scandal paved the way for serious homophobic posts on facebook and couple of blogs.
“It feels out of the sudden, the subject of homosexuality is no longer a taboo, judging by the magnitude of gay posts across the internet. This can be considered positive to some extent, but, what concerns us is the exaggeration of a homophobic type of expression. Homosexuality is being employed negatively by supposedly “liberals” in political critics”. Says Fedi, editor at gay day magazine.
Concerns over the type of social change that will be introduced under the Ennhada party’s rule, since it topped the votes last October, failed to be reassured by the party’s spokesman Riad Chaibi.
The party’s spokesman offered reassurances that the new leadership does not want to deprive citizens of individual freedoms, going so far as to say that being gay is “a matter of dignity” because society sees them as undervalued. These reassurances were revealed during an interview with Spanish news agency EFE.
The party’s spokesman spent five years in prison for his opposition to former president Ben Ali. The latter, fled the country as a consequence of a massive upraising that started on Dec 17th 2010. Chaibi, said that in Tunisia “individual freedoms and human rights are enshrined principles” and that atheists and homosexuals are a reality in Tunisia and “have a right to exist.”
Such revelations aren’t much welcomed in Tunisia. Homosexuality continues to be largely discriminated and now used as a political card game. It is considered a mental illness and also stigmatized to be a ‘prison thing’, a thing practiced by long imprisoned Ennahda members during the Ben Ali era.
Both male and female same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Tunisia. According to the article 230 of the Penal Code of 1913 (largely modified in 1964), consenting adults can face up to three years of imprisonment for private acts of sodomy.
“Tunisia has always been homophobic. Even some gays are homophobic too themselves! Revolution or not, political or apolitical, homosexuality will not be tolerated as long as the religion occupies an important place in the culture of the Tunisian society! I do not speak of the Islamists but Tunisians in general. We are a Mediterranean country, and in addition a macho Arab and Muslim one!” says Nabil, a Tunisian gay guy.
“This is not pessimism; it’s just a real finding. It still depends on the social categories. Society after all is mainly the people we interact with. Continue to live your life, discreetly as has always been the case and I see no reason to change that now! Make no mistake; it was a social revolution not mental revolution! The bellies are still hungry while we shouted for change. As for attitudes, we have to wait a little more”. Adds Nabil.