For decades during Ramadan – the month Muslims fast, pray and reflect – cafés and restaurants in Tunisia have been forced to stay shut in the daytime. The bars are completely closed – and every year the locked doors provoke the same controversy.
Religious freedom has been enshrined in the constitution since 2014, but in a country where about 98 per cent of the 12 million population are Muslim, those who do not fast are singled out. The police say they are following orders by making sure eating establishments are shut. Since the police can turn up at any time and force the owners to close, those who want stay open often increase their prices, to compensate for the risks of a raid during Ramadan.
This year, about a week before the start of Ramadan in early May, a closed group #Fater (non-fasting), started on Facebook. Members of the group share addresses of places you can eat during the day and how much they cost.
#Fater group member Akram (who doesn’t want his surname featured for fear of being attacked for failing to fast) says, “Tunisia is often portrayed as the most modern country in the Arab world and a role model when it comes to democracy and freedom. But that’s not true when it comes to freedom of religion. With what right are they forcing me to fast – am I not free to choose? During Ramadan I don’t recognise my free, open, and tolerant country.”
/Rym Benarous, Tunisia
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