Tunis, March 20th. It is Independence Day in Tunisia, the second after the revolution. Thousands of Tunisians hopped to Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the center of the uprisings 14 months ago.
The demonstration started at 11 am; there was no political leadership, no guardians, and no spiritual leaders. People just held their flags high, sung in pride and gathered in thousands across the avenue.
This demonstration came a week after two incidents that marked the nation. One was the profanation of the Tunisian flag, perhaps the first in the north-African nation's history. The other was the profanation of the Quran in the south Tunisian city of Ben Guerdane.
“I came down here to chant for the identity of this nation; independent and Islamic," said Hamza Ouerfelli, enthusiastically.
The debate over Tunisia’s national identity is causing controversy, and is traceable to the policies of the Ennahda party, the nation’s ruling party that won the recent elections.
Signup to our newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
“Islamists in Tunisia want to give out a perception that secularism and modernism is against Islam and the national identity of the country,” said sociologist and university professor Fathia Saidi.
Bourguiba and Ben Ali, Tunisia’s preceding rulers, pushed towards a civil state of modernism where Islam was largely absent from the political realm. Many Ennahda leaders were jailed or exiled. Others were either silenced or too afraid to act.
The demonstration was colored in red and white. The main uniform was the Tunisian flag and the chant of the day was the Tunisian national anthem. Yet, there were also a couple of black and white-scripted flags in the air. A handful of youth even chanted “the people want an Islamic revolution”.
“I am joining the demonstration today to show to Islamists that there is ‘us’ that matters. We do exist and we do not want Sharia law,” says Emna Jebri, a young female student.
This opinion is shared among other young people who are afraid that Sharia will take the country backwards. One of their main arguments is that it will limit women’s rights in a country that has been known for its progressive rights granted to women since the very first days of independence from France in 1956.