“The revolution became religious,” said Zoghlami, 44, who wears Western-style clothes and her hair uncovered. “We as women don’t want to lose the things we gained in the past. We want to smoke, drink, dance, stay out late if we want to. We want to live our lives.”
Once considered a model of post-Arab Spring stability, Tunisia has become paralyzed by a growing backlash against its Islamist authorities and rising extremist violence. The increasing anger echoes the public dissatisfaction that led the military in neighboring Egypt to forcibly remove its democratically elected Islamist government in July.
Thousands of Tunisian protesters, largely led by young people and the middle class, regularly jam the streets, demanding that the government resign. Parliament has been suspended indefinitely since early August. Opinion polls show the ruling party’s popularity sinking sharply as political opponents accuse the Islamists of trying to introduce Islamic law and roll back a half-
century of tolerant, European-
Protesters interviewed in the streets say the government has turned a blind eye to radicals who have stormed art exhibits and burned a warehouse filled with alcoholic drinks. But they are most angry about even more extreme violence, including the assassinations of two popular opposition politicians, the killings of 10 Tunisian soldiers and last year’s mob attack on the U.S. Embassy in Tunis that left four people dead but never resulted in a trial or conviction.
“We now have terrorism in Tunisia, and it’s the result of the government not being strict enough. They let this happen,” said Beji Caid Essebsi, Tunisia’s main opposition leader. “They encourage violence without saying they do.”
Many of the same complaints heard in Egypt — incompetence, a too-severe brand of Islam, political drift — are fueling the turmoil here.
The ruling Ennahda party portrays itself as more moderate than the Muslim Brotherhood-
affiliated government that was ousted in Egypt. But like its larger neighbor, Tunisia is caught in an increasingly violent struggle between two competing views of Islam’s role in government and daily life. And it faces the same questions: Can Islamist regimes thrive in Muslim countries with long traditions of social tolerance and openness? And can they control their more radical and violent supporters?
“Whatever the government does, we are criticized,” Rachid Ghannouchi, Ennahda’s leader, said in an interview. “We are either being too lax with these people, or we are confronting them with political motivations. You never win.”