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Post-Revolutionary Tunisia: The Conceptualisation of Women in the Islamist Discourse on Facebook


By Manel Zouabi

This article is a study of the Islamist1 discourse about women feminist activists in post-revolutionary Tunisia as constructed on Facebook. This particular research topic has been tackled in a wide array of scholarship including that of Islamism and gender since the late 1970s.2 The overwhelming majority of research findings, combined with the popular collective conceptualisation of feminism and Islamism, perpetuate the oppositional, assumingly negative, paradigm of discursive interaction between the two bodies of thought. The Islamist discourse is positioned, often as vehemently active, against feminist movements, especially ‘secular’ and ‘Western-inspired’ ones. Accordingly, and before the move into the discussion of the questions and aims and structure of this article, I first offer a critical insight on how this particular study I provide about the Islamist Facebook discourse on women feminist activists in transitory Tunisia is an original contribution to earlier studies. I illuminate, through this insight, the way the concept of feminism on the one hand, and the pre-revolutionary feminist-Islamist discursive paradigm on the other hand, deviate from the perpetual theorisation I noted above in (Western) academia. This is the significance of the re-assessment of their post-revolutionary evolvement on Facebook.

The exploration of issues on or related to feminism in Tunisia represents a complex area of investigation. It is not possible to argue, firmly, for the existence or complete lack of a feminist movement. There have been efforts to address women and gender, particularly since the 1930s. Yet, these efforts cannot be identified as a consistent feminist movement akin to that in the West. Amel Grami, a notable Tunisian ‘feminist’ figure, further discusses the inconsistency of feminist thought in Tunisia:

There is no feminist movement, in the strict conceptual academic sense, which can be studied in depth, as is the case for feminist movements in the West which have undergone revisions dealt with in the first then second then third waves, and studied the prospects of post-feminism. But there are currents […] and they do not represent a harmonious and monolithic bloc. All what there is is a feminist ideology adopted by a group of women individually, or sometimes, some associations operate according to its foundations. Accordingly, it is not possible to talk about an identity of a movement or concrete efforts, so far the feminist thought is moving between the ebb and flow, and it witnesses, I think, a process of revival after the Arab revolutions as a result of decline and violence meted on women, pushing them to further search for the mechanisms of resistance, including mechanisms produced by the globalised feminist philosophy.3 (Grami 2011, p. 1).

Grami argues that certain Tunisian women and associations adopt a loosely feminist framework. This framework serves, among other goals, as a tactical reaction to the injustices and violence meted against women in Tunisian society. The 2011 Revolution,4 contrary to the optimistic hopes for more gender equality, inflicted more discrimination against women, particularly in the early transitory phase (2011-2012). This probably explains why ‘feminist’ individual and collective discourses have been among the focal areas of debate, and also revision, in both liberal and Islamist agendas after the ‘Arab Spring’.

Early and vaguely Tunisian ‘feminist’ waves date back to the first half of the nineteenth century. There had emerged a relatively reformist thought then, manifested in the legislative reforms of the abolition of slavery (1842), the drafting of a civil constitution (1857) committed to equality, and the advocacy of women’s education (Ibn Abi Al-Diyaf, 2005). A second and more vibrant ‘feminist’ wave appeared during the late 1920s. This wave was led by Tahar Hadad, a highly claimed ‘feminist’ figure in Tunisia. Hadad’s work essentialized the question of women in the macro-discourse of social reform, and is credited as the corner stone of the Code of Personal Status. Mohamed Haddad, a contemporary Tunisian researcher, is a religious scholar, trade union activist, notary and social reformist. He originated from a rural Southern working-class environment. He would describe his small village Al- Hamma as a place where ‘elder women’ would wish ‘good luck’5 to ‘younger girls’. Elderly women lamented, Haddad reveals, that apart from the hope in arbitrary luck, Tunisian women had no means at all for a good life (Haddad 2004, p.75).

Haddad tackles the problematic nature of tradition in regard to women. He argues that impediments of liberation from French colonial oppression, socio-economic progress and better life conditions culminate in the ‘unauthentic’ notion of ‘tradition’ (Haddad, 2004). Haddad denounces tradition as ‘jahiliya [pagan] psyches, ethics and habits […] created through years and eras. It has transformed into undoubtable Aqedah [firm belief]. It is either that […the] senate rules according to them, or the sword and spear [violence/war/dominance] would rule’ (Haddad 2004 p.11). Unlike assimilationist and anti-colonial discourses, Haddad does not engage, at least explicitly, in the negotiation of tradition and assimilation. Instead, he juxtaposes the Tunisian tradition to what he concludes as ‘innocent’ and ‘egalitarian’ Islamic law. The battle of ‘emancipation’, accordingly, takes place between ‘rigid tradition’ and ‘revolutionary Islam’. A traditional society consistent of debased women and dominating men would be, Haddad argues, both oppressive and oppressed (Haddad 2004). Haddad accentuates the dehumanising impact of patriarchy through several accounts of viciously beaten, illiterate, exploited, and disheartened female victims of patriarchy he had encountered as a notary. Haddad suggests that the empowerment of women does not necessarily imply the renunciation of Islam. ‘Feminism’ is rather a means of stopping the ‘physical and psychological’ pain of half of the society (Haddad 2004).

Haddad further elaborates the mechanism of the ‘purposefulness of the text’ (Haddad, 2014) in support of his reformist, apparently ‘feminist’, rhetoric. The Tunisian reformer here points to the gradual spatiotemporal progressivism of Qur’an and legislation. Haddad argues that the emergence of Islam in the seventh century in the Arab peninsula had, practically, revolutionized the situation of women in that specific time and place. Accordingly, the revolutionary factor of progress should be maintained. Details, however, are flexible for the accommodation of the changing spatiotemporal circumstances (Haddad 2004 pp. 9-11). Haddad exemplifies his analysis through Quran-based case studies such as court testimony. For instance, women in the pre-Islamic Arab Peninsula were not allowed to attend or provide court testimony. It was Islam that provided women this new right of testimony, though equating one man’s testimony to two women’s. Haddad argues that providing the new right to court testimony at that particular time represents the theoretical foundation of women’s empowerment. The detail of the number of women in comparison to men is, however, spatiotemporally-conditioned. According to Haddad, women in the early days of Islam were less visible than men in the public domain comprising of labour and economy. Therefore, they had less expertise than men about the cases they would testify in (Haddad 2004 p.17). As woman’s involvement in public life increases, rights persist. Practical details, in contrast, change in order to accommodate the positively evolving situation of the woman. Haddad accentuates the ambivalence of Quran as an explicit call for the conduct of an evolving and progressive reading of the text, a process I refer to as ijtihad in relation to the veil. Haddad’s discourse legitimises gender equality under the umbrella of Islam and within the macro-project of Islamic social reform. Haddad’s discourse about women significantly shapes the Tunisian conceptualisation of what ‘feminism’ denotes. This challenging ‘feminist’ symbolism may probably explain why a group of radical Islamists decapitated the statue of Haddad after the 2011 Revolution. Lotfi Laamari, a Tunisian political critic, described the attack on the statue as an intellectual decapitation. ‘If Haddad were alive’, Laamari suggested, ‘they [radical Islamists] would have decapitated him for his ideas’ (Laamari, 2015). Obviously, Haddad has been regarded unfavourably by certain Tunisian Islamists. Yet, he provided the legitimising religious foundations for later Bourguibist6 reform on the situation and rights of women through a Tunisian Islamic framework. ‘Feminism’, according to Haddad’s and Bourguiba’s discourses, can be defined as a selectively pro-women’s interpretation of Islamic sources, instrumentalized for the accommodation of the macro socio-economic discourse of modernisation. Haddad’s 1930s treaty and Bourguiba’s 1956 legislation about women still articulate the most vibrant signifiers associated with the concept of ‘feminism’ in Tunisian common sense knowledge. The day of the launch of the Bourguibist Code of Personal Status, the 13th of August, is annually commemorated as the National Day of the Tunisian Woman.

The prominence of state feminism, championed by the President Bourguiba and later by President Ben Ali, eclipsed women’s efforts for the initiation of state-independent movements. Women feminist activists were expected to be active under the supervision of the state. Therefore, they needed to join state-dependent establishments, notably the Tunisian National Union for Women. It was not until the late 1970s that a wave of independent feminist activism, associated with the left, emerged. It was led by prominent feminist figures, notably Elham Marzouki, who is known for her critical documentation of Tunisian feminist thought in her work The Tunisian Feminist Movement in the Twentieth Century. Independent feminists established cultural clubs and associations for the discussion of, and activism on, women’s issues. The most vocal feminist action culminated, however, in the creation of the Tunisian Association for the Democrat Women (ATFD), popularly known as the Democrat Women. This association, as provided in its website description7:

[...] was founded by the autonomous movements of women who, since the 1970s have had, through different structures, diverse forms of expression:

1978 The Club for the Study of the Condition of Women ‘Tahar Haddad’.

1982 The Commission for the Study of the Condition of Working Women of UGTT [General Union for Tunisian Workers]

1983 Review of ‘Nissa’ (Women).

1984 Women’s Commission of the Tunisian Human Rights League

1988 Birth of ATFD

ATFD was the first Tunisian association for women to officially identify as ‘feminist’. Their feminist identity is founded on a myriad of principles comprising of autonomy, plurality, solidarity, and secularism. Secularism is a negatively controversial concept in the Muslim World of North Africa. It is widely associated, especially in popular circles, with the complete elimination of religion from the lives of individuals and the state. The ATFD official website, however, identifies the understanding of the women members of the concept of secularism as the elimination of all forms of discrimination based on religious and patriarchal prejudice. ATFD list their aims as the enhancement of the acquired rights of women, and the work on further progress toward:

‘[…] the end of all forms of violence and discrimination against women in areas and spaces.

The contribution to the development of laws along the lines of full and effective equality between the sexes.

Change and confrontation of patriarchy, and urging for women’s freedom in decision-making.

Working for the effective contribution of women to public and political life, and the enhancement of their full rights as citizens.’

ATFD criticized Bourguibist ‘feminist’ reform as insufficient, and in need of positive evolvement. They argued that the 1956 Code of Personal Status perpetuated patriarchy in different articles including that of the conjugal relationship and the more restrictive marriage conditions on women than men.8 ATFD suggested that Bourguibist reform provided a certain concrete form of gender equality. Yet, this reform, according to them, was far from an achievement of full gender equality.

The fledgling ATFD transformed into a visible rival to the Ben Ali dictatorship. The association’s vocal national and international criticism of rigid Tunisian patriarchy, combined with the reports they produced on violence and discrimination against women, threatened the state monopoly of the feminist question. The post-independent state vigorously sought to establish an international pro-women reputation. This is the reason why, for example, the 1999 ATFD book about sexual violence against Tunisian women was censored by the Ben Ali government. Patriarchal practices did not, according to what the Ben Ali regime claimed, exist any more in post-independent Tunisia. Women rather enjoyed full and equal rights to men, the regime claimed. Ben Ali’s prosecution of ATFD can partly explain the solidarity that developed between the feminist association on the one hand, and the Islamist stream on the other, during the 2000s. ATFD allied with Islamists and also liberal and leftist political parties. Irrespective of their complex ideological differences, they all resisted the one-party rule of Ben Ali (Ozzano and Cavatorta 2014, p.72). Moreover, and surprisingly, Islamists no longer objected to secular full gender equality, for which ATFD called. Instead, Islamists signed, together with feminists, a pact championing the late Bourguiba Code of Personal Status in October 2005. The document also called for further reform on behalf of women (Ozzano and Cavatorta 2014, p.72). Afterwards, Sana Ben Achour, the president of Democrat Women (ATFD), expressed scepticism toward the favourable attitudes of Islamists. It seemed confusing, according to her, that Islamists signed, on the one hand, a feminist gender equality pact. On the other hand, however; their leader Ghannoushi chaired an international association for the defence of men’s access to polygamy (Dhouib 2015 p.527). Nevertheless, the alliance between feminists and Islamists resisting dictatorship persisted. Notable Democrat women lawyers including Bochra Belhaj Hmida, defended them during the 1990s-2000s waves of political trials (BBC Arabi 2011, p.1).

The feminist-Islamist paradigm in Tunisia before the Revolution was not the typical conventional model. The questions of feminism and Islamism were rather fluid, and dependent on the mechanism of collective resistance against political dictatorship. After the fall of the Ben Ali regime and the consequent early transitory phase (2011-2012), it is time now to investigate how this discursive paradigm developed, and more specifically, to ask: what kind of feminist activists do Islamist posts focus on, how do they conceptualise these women, what discursive methods do they use, and how do they naturalise their conceptualisation of feminist activists into common sense knowledge? I attempt to answer these questions through the employment of critical discourse analysis (CDA), which is a ‘set of loosely interconnected methods’ (Fairclough 2012, p. 1) for the critical study of discourse, and the relations between discourse and societal elements. I aim at providing a critical understanding of the post-revolutionary evolution of Islamist discourse, and the different constructions of feminists that emerged in Islamist Facebook pages.

The first post I examine is titled ‘The Representatives of the Islamist Associations on TV 7 Humiliated Bochra Belhaj Hmida, and Showed her the Real Worth she has, in all Politeness :))))))’.9 It is published on a number of Islamist Facebook pages including Tunisie-Tunisia, KooraTunisie, Toward the Second Independence, Tunisia (معاإلىالاستقلالالثانيتونس), and The hidden Truths (الحقائقالخفية), on February 2012. The post contains a photo and a text.10

The Representatives of the Islamist associations on TV7 humiliated Bochra Belhaj Hmida, and showed her the real worth she has, in all politeness :))))))

The sheikh addressed Bochra Belhaj Hmida: ‘I remember well when you said ‘J’aiconfianceen Ben Ali [I have confidence in Ben Ali the overthrown President]’.

Hhhhhhhhh. The sheikh warmed my heart when he put limits to her [Bochra], and addressed her: ‘In 2007, you defended gay rights and campaigned for same sex marriage. Do you want my son to come to me one day with his intentions to propose to a man and tell me: “Dad, I would like to marry a guy like me, accompany me to propose to the guy!” Then, I go to the father of the [potential fiancé] man and address him: “I ask for the hand of your honorable son.”‘ Hhhhhhhhh

Bochra Belhaj Hmida became confused, and she did not know what to answer with, and got into a hysterical state. Even the presenter who sided with her [Bochra] all the time against the sheikhs and offered her more time and always interrupted the sheikhs, she [the presenter] suddenly cut the broadcast. Instead, the administration of the TV broadcast a recorded program about wild animals. This indicates that the national TV is not neutral nor impartial. When they [TV] knew that they were defeated in front of the sheikhs whose arguments were strong and whose influence is great on the public, they [TV] just cut it at once…What a scandal!

The woman in the photo is Bochra Belhaj Hmida. Her name can often be spotted in Facebook posts and comments about different issues such as the dress code and the conduct of women. The recurrent Islamist implication of Bochra in particular is noteworthy. It raises questions about the discursive connotation of this activist, and how she is repeatedly invested in the construction of the Islamist discourse about women. Bochra is best known as a Femme Démocrate11 despite also being a well-known lawyer, human rights activist and politician. She was the co-founder of the Tunisian Association of the Democrat women in 1989, which she presided over between 1994 and 1998. ATFD enjoys, as I earlier noted, a very distinctive status in Tunisia thanks to its open identification as ‘feminist’. I therefore suggest that Bochra’s vocal ‘feminism’ is perhaps among the most invested signifiers in the Islamist discourse.

This visual part of the post figures as a primary source only in Islamist Facebook pages. Belhaj Hmida did not post the photo on her Facebook profile, neither as a primary nor as a secondary source. This indicates that Islamist Facebook administrators are the ones who captured this particular visual instance of the feminist activist. The photo articulates, it can be suggested, the strategic Islamist visual production of the subject. Sad looking, Bochra is angled at the far left, with her distressed eyes not facing the camera. Her facial expressions, which Fairclough defines as the action mode (Fairclough 1992), are passive and negative. Her eyes aim nowhere, and they are lowered down. It is the camera that is pointed at her. She is also anything but happy and/or relaxed. Instead, her expressions are coded as bewildered, disappointed and defeated. In addition, only her relatively wrinkled face and a small part of her upper body, enough to show her earring, necklace and clothing, are revealed. As to the wrinkles, and compared to Belhaj Hmida’s usual public appearances, they seem to be hyper-highlighted in the photo. The photo codes her as out of political order. I support my suggestion of political decay through the connotative interplay of colors. Belhaj Hmida wears a long-sleeved violet T-shirt. She has a sleeveless flowery blouse composed of a violet background and red roses on top of the T-shirt. She is framed within a dark red background. The color violet acquired ideologized political connotations in pre-Revolutionary Tunisia as it was rumored to be the favorite color of the disposed president Ben Ali. Violet figured in different pre-revolutionary festivities (example: violet balloons) and decorations (example: bridges). La presse newspaper described the rule of Ben Ali as the Violet Years (Lachapelle, 2012). After January 2011, Islamists and certain leftists employed the expressions ‘a violet partisan’ and ‘violet media’ as a strong intimidation weapon against their opponents on Facebook and in traditional media as well. As to the dark red, it articulates multiple political significations, the most prominent of which is perhaps the Tunisian flag. Yet, it was internalised, especially in the early transitory phase, as the colour of the dissolved ruling Party of The Democratic Constitutional Rally (France 2, 2011). The logo of the Party was dark red. The visual association of Belhaj Hmida with the violet and dark red colours at the transitory phase codes her as a rotten political subject.

The post further perpetuates the negative political construing of Belhaj Hmida through the logo on top of her. The Belhaj Hmida-logo positioning recalls, to a large extent, the metaphor of ‘the badge of shame on the forehead’. There are connotations of political ‘branding’, borrowed from imageries of the Middle Ages (Dodge and Rennison 2016, 58), as a form of shaming and punishment. The expression of the ‘non-patriotic’ on top of Bochra, though referring to the TV, brands her as well as a traitor. The aim of branding is to ‘warn members of the [Facebook] community of the specific potential danger of the individual posed’ (Dodge and Rennison 2016, 58). Given the inherent Islamist employment of religious rhetoric, this visual production of Bochra may also be loosely based on the Muslim eschatological metaphor of the Al-Messiah ad-Dajjal (المسيحالدجال).12 The latter figure is described as an evil character, branded with the term Kafer (disbeliever) between their eyes. Yet, individuals are unable to distinguish the branding. Thus, The Messiah Ad-Dajjal succeeds in misleading them by pretending to be a saviour (Glassée 2003, p. 109). Belhaj Hmida presents as a human rights activist and a feminist in the Tunisian political landscape. The ‘non-patriotic’ branding on top of her may evoke the Islamist claim that she, in fact, misleads Tunisians, particularly women, into false ‘feminism’ and ‘patriotism’. The post further reinforces the visual metaphor of the Al-Messiah ad-Dajjal (المسيحالدجال) through the semiotic interplay of the terms of ‘patriotic’ (وطنية) and ‘unpatriotic’ (لاوطنية). Whereas the evil character in the Muslim eschatology presents as Messiah (Christ, the saviour), their appropriate name is rather Messiakh (the deformed deceiver). The interplay of meaning lies in the omitting of the ‘k’ letter. As to Belhaj Hmida, the interplay may lie in dropping the prefix ‘un’ (patriotic). The Islamist visual production of Belhaj Hmida articulates embedded discursive methods including the passivation of the action mode of the subject, the semiotic signification of colours and the religious and cultural metaphors of shame and deception. The Islamist publisher of the post constructs the feminist activist as the defeated, deceptive Other, dependent on corrupted dictatorship. This production intersects feminist political activism with mega discourses of authoritarianism, and political and ethical polarisation. This visualisation seems to be directly in line with the verbal content of the post.

The title ‘Representatives of the Islamist associations on TV7 humiliated Bochra Belhaj Hmida, and showed her the real worth she has, in all politeness :))))))’ seems to summarize the text. The representatives of the Islamist associations are the social actors. The post constructs them, through the collective vague and unspecified plural, as an in-group (Van Dijk 2006). Bochra, however, is located in the out-group. The post maintains this polarization, in which the in-group represents the ‘good’ and the out-group the ‘bad’, through the discursive use of oxymoron. Oxymoron is a ‘figure of speech that combines two opposites’ (Gorrel 1994 p. 203). The title consists of two contradictory modes of action: humiliation and politeness. Islamist representatives are the in-group humiliating agents. Yet, they catalyze, paradoxically, a polite humiliation. Bochra, the out-group passive subject, is humiliated politely. This discursive oxymoron, and in addition the polarizing effect between the representatives and Belhaj Hmida, embeds legitimizing elements in regard to the action the Islamist representatives take against Bochra (the humiliation of the subject).

The body of the text is a detailed discursive description of the polite humiliation of the feminist activist:

‘The sheikh addressed Bochra Belhaj Hmida: ‘I remember well when you said ‘J’aiconfianceen Ben Ali [I have confidence in Ben Ali the overthrown President]’.

The ‘sheikh’ points to Belhaj Hmida’s participation in a televised debate on the evening of the 13th January 2011: the eve of the overthrow of the Ben Ali regime. The debate was broadcast on the state-controlled TV 7 channel. Belhaj Hmida then discussed the initial uprisings and then-President Ben Ali’s public response to them. In the morning following this televised debate, the 14th January 2011, the overthrow of Ben Ali was announced. In the subsequent flourishing of post-revolutionary Islamist Facebook pages, a video sequence taken from the participation of Belhaj Hmida in the above debate spread virally on Facebook. The sequence focused on the feminist activist saying:

I consider this speech [the speech of Ben Ali before his overthrow] a historical moment [...]

Today, I have confidence in Ben Ali: I am telling you. I say this in front of the world.13

This sequence, reaching a large number of Facebook users and secondary users, contributed to the public political coding of Bochra as corrupt. Feminist political activism, especially that of ATFD, was branded by Islamists as a signifier of empathy with authoritarianism.

It is noteworthy, however; that the above short sequence articulates a frequently employed Islamist discursive method in the transitory phase. Islamists deployed selective speech segments, detached of their discursive context, for distortive representational purposes (Van Dijk, 2006) of political opponents. Distorted representation, in the case of the above sequence ‘the sheikh’ refers to, is articulated through manipulative montage. The non-Islamist montage-free original sequence of Bochra reads as follows:

I consider this speech [the weak apologetic speech of Ben Ali before his overthrow] a historical moment because it [concession] happened thanks to the will of the Tunisian people. It is behind those people that the government and all those in charge should stand.

Ok, I feel that Ben Ali is sincere about this speech. Let’s say that I have confidence in Ben Ali, but excuse me! What about the 23 years [the rule of Ben Ali 1987-2011] of injustice? What about the impediment of the chances of democracy for all this time? The state is making concessions now only after Tunisians sacrificed themselves [were shot in uprisings]!?

The selective montage Islamists employed afterwards modifies and distorts the statements constructive of the political discourse of Belhaj Hmida. Accordingly, the Islamist construing of the feminist activist ideas is promoted in a distortive opaque form as truth (Fairclough 1995, p. 56) to the public audience of Facebook. The ‘sheikh’ (mentioned in the Islamist post) instrumentalizes the Islamist Facebook defamation of Belhaj Hmida to construct her as a negative political subject.

In addition to political coding, the post articulates ethico-social coding as well. The discursive move from the political to the ethico-social is signalled through the move from one form of ‘polite humiliation’ to another.

[…] he[the sheikh] warmed my heart when he put limits to her [Bochra], and addressed her: ‘In 2007, you defended gay rights and campaigned for same sex marriage. Do you want my son to come to me one day with his intentions to propose to a man and tell me: “Dad, I would like to marry a guy like me, accompany me to propose to the guy!” Then, I go to the father of the [potential fiancé] man and address him: “I ask for the hand of your honorable son.”‘ Hhhhhhhhh

The sheikh, unclear whether he is the same first speaker or a different new social actor, employs argumentative parody. Parody is a form of critical humour composed of an original model (the parodied) and its imitation (the parodying) (Dentith 2002). The discursive aim of the above parody is ‘to (dis-)qualify political developments, social groups or even individuals as threatening the identity or continued existence of [society]’ (Musolff 2012, p. 303). The representation of the feminist activist as pro-LGBT rights, especially in the early post-revolutionary phase, articulates an action mode of defamation. LGBT activism evokes the theme of the destabilization of gender norms. It connotes a socially-unconventional example of betrothal etiquettes, and is therefore ill-received in Tunisia. This ill-reception can be rooted in socio-religious stigmatisation on the one hand, and legal criminalisation on the other hand.14 The post does not clarify whether this ‘accusation’ represents a deliberate statement made by the ‘sheikh’ or an answer to something Belhaj Hmida said.

Belhaj Hmida is not associated only with ‘appalling’ heterosexual identities, but also with an ‘appalling’ cultural discourse, namely Francophonism. The Facebook post sheds light on what Islamists conceptualise as the Francophone content of the Tunisian secular feminist discourse. The administrator employs French language only for the reporting of what is promoted as Belhaj Hmida’s verbal intervention, ‘The sheikh addressed Bochra Belhaj Hmida: ‘I do remember well when you said “J’aiconfiance en Ben Ali [I have confidence in Ben Ali]15 The term francophonie16 was initially coined by the French geographer Onésime Reclus in 1880. Reclus employed this terminology in reference to French-speaking geographical parts of the world (Singh 2008, p.14). After the twentieth-century independence of many French colonies including Tunisia, however, la francophonie acquired new interdisciplinary signifiers. Christiane Albert (1999 p.5) suggests that the notion was disseminated, rather reflexively, in a variety of discourses. For example, the International Organization of la francophonie, defines the francophone realm as ‘one of the biggest linguistic zones in the world. Its members share more than just a common language [French]. They also share the humanist values promoted by the French language. The French language and its humanist values represent the two cornerstones on which the International Organisation of La Francophonie is based’. Accordingly, French language and the humanist values transmitted through French language to French-speaking nations, notably former French colonies, represent the foundations of collective, yet multi-cultural, forms of ties. Kamal Salhi (2010 p.17), a post-colonial critic, explains that these human values are, theoretically, derived from the philosophy of Enlightenment and the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man. Francophone member nations are required to share common linguistic and Republican beliefs in the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity (Salhi 2010 p.17).

La francophonie articulates multi-layered levels of meaning in Tunisian discourses on women. On the one hand, it has both colonial roots and signifiers. During the colonial era (1881-1956), la francophonie signified illegitimate assimilationist power. The anti-colonial nationalist movement, led by Habib Bourguiba, constructed la francophonie as a politico-cultural threat. This was instrumental for the mobilization of the public against French occupation. Public rejection of la francophonie was therefore championed as a means of protecting Tunisian Muslim Arab identity against assimilation. On the other hand however, la francophonie acquired a paradoxically different signifier after independence (Dhiouf 2010, p.260). The same leading anti-colonial figure Habib Bourguiba transformed into a champion of French language and Enlightenment values in Tunisia.17 He romanticised, emphatically, about the vital role of his French education, notably in law and political philosophy, in the formation of his anti-colonial resistance goals (Bourguiba 1968). He even founded, with other post-independence African heads of states, the International Association of la francophonie. Therefore, Bourguiba re-signified post-independence francophonie as the language and theoretical values of ‘emancipation’ (Dhiouf 2010, p. 260).

Bourguiba’s post-independence adoption of francophone discourse had possibly articulated a complex political orientation in terms of international relations. My focus, however, centres on the cultural articulations of this demarche. Bourguibist Tunisia highly cherished literary, social, legal, philosophical and revolutionary francophone discourses (Mazrui 2014, p.19). Beyond theory, the francophonie largely shapes the multiple apparatuses of cultural expression, including for instance the artistic, dialectical and legal. This cherishing has gradually decreased due to various factors including re-shaped global geopolitical paradigms, Arabisation of public curriculums, the international rise of English language and the ‘loss of [...] influence of French in the worlds of science and technology and business’ (Harrabi 2011, p.166). Noticeably, however; la francophonie is still associated with a myriad of normative socio-political signifiers, most notably, urbanisation, intellectualism and foreign agendas especially in regard to women’s rights. The Facebook post mobilises the discourse of French assimilation, particularly in the construing of secular feminist activists.

Like the visual part of the post, the verbal one passivates Bochra as well. The feminist activist is the centre of the post. Yet, she does not speak; she is under the patriarchal microscope of gender politics and ethics. She is constructed through the discourse of the male sheikhs.

The second Facebook post is a standard Arab-language article titled Between true feminism and fake feminism. It is posted by the Islamist Facebook user and activist Soumaya Ghannoushi on her official page holding her full name on 3 November 2011,

Between true feminism and fake feminism

As was expected, the machine of lies and quackery started working again with the speed of light. Before the ink of the election results dries, the army of the defeated and futile started gathering their dispersed cronies. The [TV] series started with the mobilization of the strikes and then the sit-ins of some groups that falsely claim the defense of women’s rights and achievements. The bitter truth that those futile and miserable people intentionally ignore is that they will see in the coming days a Constitutional Assembly composed of 49 women 42 out of which are Nahdaoui (Islamist) between lawyers, university teachers, doctors and engineers. These nationally elected leaders will be at the forefront of true feminist militancy in order to implant women’s true rights and gains, and not fake ones. They will work hard with dedication in order to spread them [rights and gains] among all Tunisian women in cities and forgotten countryside, between middle and working classes, and between the educated and the illiterate. Women will get, God willing, more freedoms and rights in education, work and healthcare. Their participation in the political and public life will be greater than any previous time. Tunisians will see women in all kinds of responsibility without exception; and this is the best answer to the women of ‘the Parisian Club’ who restrict women’s rights to wearing a mini-jip, smoking a cigarette and drinking a bottle of alcohol in a nightclub.

بين النسوية الحقيقية و النسوية المزيفة

3 novembre2011, 21:26

كما كان متوقعا بدأت مكينة الكذب والدجل تشتغل مجددا وبسرعة البرق، فقبل ان يجف حبر نتائج الانتخابات شرع جيش المهزومين والخائبين في تجميع فلولهم المشتتة. إنطلق المسلسل بتحريك الإضرابات ثم باعتصام بعض المجموعات التي تدعي زيفا و بهتانا الدفاع عن حقوق ومكاسب المرأة التونسية.. الحقيقة المرة التي يتجاهلها هؤلاء الخائبون البائسون عمدا هو أنهم سيرون في الأيام القادمة مجلسا تأسيسيا يضم 49 مرأة من بينهن 42 مرأة نهضوية ما بين محامية وأستاذة جامعية وطبيبة ومهندسة. ستكون هاته القيادات المنتخبة شعبيا في طليعة النضال النسوي الحقيقي لتجذير حقوق المرأة التونسية ومكاسبها الفعلية، لا المزيفة، و سيعملن بتفان وجد لتعميم هذه المكتسبات على سائر نساء تونس في المدن والارياف المنسية، بين الطبقات الوسطى والفقيرة و بين المثقفات و الأميات. ستحصل المرأة التونسية بحول الله على مزيد من الحريات والحقوق في التعليم والشغل والرعاية الصحية، مثلما ستكون مشاركتها في الحياة السياسية والعامة أوسع من أي وقت مضى. سيرى التونسيون المرأة في كامل مواقع المسؤولية دون إستثناء، و هذا هو أفضل رد على نساء "النادي الباريسي" اللواتي يحصرن حقوق المرأة في ارتداء المني جيب، وتدخين سيجارة، واحتساء علبة كحول في ملهى ليلي

Soumaya Ghannoushi, the author and publisher of the post, is best known in Tunisia for her blood and marital ties with Islamist men figures. She is the daughter of En-nahda Party leader Rached Ghannoushi and the wife of the Islamist previous Minister of Affairs Rafik Abdessalem. Nevertheless, she is also a researcher on the history of ideas and a freelance writer on different newspapers including The Guardian and Al Jazeera English. In addition to traditional media, Soumaya is active on social networks. Soumaya’s official website, as well as her pre-revolutionary freelance work, are all in English language.18 This may have stemmed from her upbringing and study in Britain. Paradoxically, Soumaya’s Facebook page, founded in the aftermath of the 2011 Revolution, contains publications only in standard Arabic. Soumaya does not accompany her Arabic-written Facebook articles with English translations. Yet, she regularly provides an Arabic translation of her English newspaper articles. This language focus on Standard Arabic may connote a strategized method for the targeting of the Arab-speaking reader, particularly the Tunisian.

Soumaya points explicitly to the socio-political context of the post, ‘Before the ink of the election results dries, the army of the defeated and futile started gathering their dispersed cronies’. The above text is situated within the post 2011 electoral context. These constitutional elections were the first to be held after the overthrow of the Ben Ali regime. Therefore, they crystallized the practical potential of transition from the one-party authoritarian rule to political plurality. En-nahda emerged in the first place with 40% of the total votes. The results had not apparently been a happy surprise to ‘secular’ feminist activists. The Islamist discourse on women, which Ons Hattab, a unionist and feminist politician, criticized in 2016 as ‘deeply obscure and worrying’[19], may account for feminist discontent with the electoral outcome. The pre-electoral Islamist Facebook posts and responses about women’s dress code were coercive and polarizing. In addition, the President of En-nahda Party advocated, since the emergence of the movement, patriarchal rhetoric on marriage. He referred to unmarried women with the pejorative term awaness (spinsters). He also argued that women’s education and work, combined with the abolition of polygamy, inflicted unemployment on men and ‘spinsterhood’ on women (Ghannoushi, 2011). Moreover, the Islamist MP Abderrahim vehemently attacked single mothers just after the elections.[20] For all these discursive statements of patriarchy, feminist concerns about the victory of En-nahda were immediately vocal. They were, in turn, reacted against by Islamist Facebook users including Soumaya through her above article.

The title, Between True Feminism and Fake Feminism, suggests that the post is a comparative text. Soumaya’s response to feminist concerns would, therefore, imply comparative methodology. Comparison culminates in the way the Islamist discourse on the one hand, and of Democrat Women (ATFD) on the other, construct feminism. Ghannoushi sheds light on what she describes as ‘fake feminism’ first. She employs an overtly figurative language in order to construct these social actors, who she describes as ‘fake feminists’,

The army of the defeated and futile started gathering their dispersed cronies

The machine of lies and quackery started working again with the speed of light

The [TV] series started with the mobilization of the strikes and then the sit-ins of some groups that falsely claim the defense of women’s rights and achievements.

The text represents a metaphorically-grounded argument. It articulates a ‘grotesque application’ (Musolff 2012, p.303) of metaphor. The term ‘grotesque’, according to the Oxford dictionary, implies repulsive, and often comic, ugliness, distortion, incongruity, and/or inappropriateness. Edwards and Graulund (2013) point to the ongoing twentieth-century interdisciplinary disagreement about the functions of the grotesque, and its positive versus negative instrumentalization in linguistics, arts and psychoanalysis (see for example: Freud’s The Uncanny, 1919; Bakhtin’s Rabelais and His World 1965). What is relevant for the dissemination of Soumaya’s post, however, is the scholarly broad agreement on the inextricability of the grotesque and the social imagination. Harpham (2007), for example, explains that the grotesque is not grotesque in itself. It is rather ‘our conventions, our prejudices, our commonplaces, our banalities, our mediocrities’ that define what a grotesque object is. The conceptualization of the grotesque targets what is perceived as irregular and threatening to the social order (Harpham 2007). Ghannoushi deploys the grotesque metaphors of the ‘machine of lies’, ‘sorcery’, and the ‘obscure defeated army’ for the description of feminist activists. They are explicit and well-articulated, rather than embedded, metaphors in terms of polarization and disfigurement of the Other. Soumaya reinforces their explicitness through a dense comparative lexic of material feminist negativity (machine, lies, sorcery, defeated, futile, dispersed, falsely, miserable, fake, Parisian Club) versus Islamist positivity (constitutional, nationally-elected, leaders, true feminist militancy, true rights and gains, work hard, dedication, more freedoms and rights, greater, responsibility, best). Clearly, Soumaya constructs feminist activists as what is grotesquely fake and deformed. Islamist women, on the other hand, catalyze the true notion of feminism.

Scholarship on critical discourse studies, particularly political and media discourse, commenced shedding more light on the device of metaphor since the 1970s (Mussolff 2012; Steuter and Willis 2009). This interest, Andreas Mussolff (2012 p.303) argues, arises from the effectivity of metaphor in communicating political ideas (of the author) and assimilating them to public collective awareness (reader). Metaphor is generally seen, since antiquity, as an attractive, memorable and powerful linguistic device. Steuter and Willis (2009) point to the way Aristotelian rhetoric examined the visual appeal of metaphor, as articulated through the vibrant visual scenery effect it produces. This attractiveness, nevertheless, is rather the ‘dangerous’ (Mussolff 2012, p.305) type. I focus, for example, on Soumaya’s first metaphor of war. It is rather a universal kind of metaphor (Kovecses 2008, p.103). War is, in effect, extensively used in political discourses, the best well known contemporary of which is probably George Bush’s war on terror (Hodges 2011; Holland 2012). First, Soumaya addresses ‘the symbolic theme’ (Mussolff 2012, p.305) of the defeat of enemies of Islam through the construction of feminists as a ‘defeated, futile [and…] miserable army’. She appeals to the collective Muslim imageries of the defeat of evil as conceptualized through Qur’an, Hadith and modern media. The lexic is also borrowed from, and conjugated according to, these sources. Soumaya is among the many Islamist figures that instrumentalize symbolic military themes of the early Muslim era. Islamist En-nahda Party members Sadok Chourou and Habib Louz, for example, referred explicitly to imageries of defeat of koffar (disbelievers) during the very early days of Islam[21] in order to describe the Islamist conflict with Tunisian secular forces.

In addition to assimilating feminists to the army of enemies of Islam, Soumaya de-complicates, through metaphor, her disagreement with them. Mussolff (2012 p. 306) argues that metaphors ‘collapse complicated issues into more simplified information that can be understood by the public’. Soumaya is not required anymore, thanks to metaphors, to provide an argumentative dissemination and supporting facts on behalf of her claim about the ‘evilness’ of feminist activists. She, in effect, does not explain laboriously how and why their feminism is incompatible with her understanding of the notion. Instead, her metaphors capture and construe feminist activists. It is at the end that she explicitly ‘agentivizes’ her enemies of war, the women of the ‘Parisian Club’. Her agentivization of these women is, again, not based on laborious argumentation. Soumaya rather deploys an overt value judgement. For example, Houssem, a male-commentator on Soumaya’s post writes:

When I read your article, I did not understand the difference between the principles of what you call true feminism and fake feminism.

Could you please further elaborate, provide arguments and dispose of that insult stuff?[22]

Houssem highlights the lack of complex argumentation. The article is overtly composed of de-complicated metaphorical imageries and value judgement. The value judgement Soumaya deploys targets very particular details related to the private conduct of women. This illuminates the problematic Islamist conceptualization of women’s individual freedoms. Soumaya argues that ‘true feminists’ can become doctors, engineers, and teachers. Yet, she neglects to tell the reader how these domains can become socially de-gendered through, for example, the elimination of male harassment against women at work places. In addition, Soumaya fully ignores addressing the feminist quest for individual freedoms including, for instance, individuality, dress code, and sexual conduct and reproduction.

Soumaya polarizes feminist activists at the start. She constructs them as the evil side and herself as the righteous one. She gradually, however, deprives them of all aspects of feminism. In parallel, she simplifies their activism into socially-diabolized apparatuses of agency. Soumaya restricts secular feminist women’s agency to inappropriate dress code, dictatorial elitism, and un-Islamic consumption of cigarettes and alcohol. These feminists, therefore, are transformed into a social repulsive threat. Steuter and Willis instigate that the construction of the enemy as a threat to the audience fuels ‘calls for extermination’ (Steuter and Willis 2000 p.38). Tunisians who are directly in line with Soumaya’s discourse would be required to eliminate the corruptive paradigm of feminism responsible for the de-stabilization of social order. It is here worth referring to the case of Chokri Belaid. Belaid was a Tunisian politician, and among the prominent pre- and post-revolutionary figures of the political opposition. He was increasingly diabolized on Islamist Facebook pages. Islamists portrayed him, just like Soumaya does, as a threat to Islamic ethics because of his leftist discourse and vocal criticism of Islamist politics. Effectively, Belaid was assassinated on February 2013. Different figures, including Belaid’s widow Basma Khalfaoui, blamed the online takfeer campaign (accusation of enmity to Islam) for Chokri Belaid’s assassination. Certain feminist activists, including Bochra Belhaj Hmida, lina Ben Mhenni and Ikbel Gharbi, still have state-provided security because of radical Islamist threats of assassination.

Publishing on social media is not an identical process to publishing in traditional media. Publishing on Facebook can, for example, be in a less formal language, shorter texts, and more interactive methodology than publishing in traditional media (Floyd et al 2015). Yet, the articles Soumaya shares on Facebook are strikingly different from English-language material on her official website and in international newspapers. The difference between Soumaya’s Facebook and traditional media writings extends beyond the structure and formality apparatuses I noted above. Paradoxically to all the above findings, Soumaya (2011, p.1) refers to non-Islamist women activists as ‘unveiled sisters’ in The Guardian. She also describes the pre-revolutionary Tunisian civil society as a ‘vibrant civil society’. In addition, she employs a lexic of solidarity for the description of the post-electoral Tunisian scene ‘consensus-building, national unity, compromise and consensuses’. For instance, she describes the post-revolutionary relation between Islamists and the Forum for Freedoms Party which consists of multiple liberal feminist figures including Bochra Belhaj Hmida, as a ‘commitment to consensus-building [that] has shielded Tunisia from the intense ideological polarisation’ (Ghannoushi 2014, p.1). The compromising lexic Soumaya employs in her non-Facebook articles, as shown through the example of the Guardian, is the complete opposite of the polarization paradigm she perpetuates on Facebook. This brief, interestingly suggestive, comparison highlights, among other things, the distinctiveness of Facebook as an Islamist political platform.

The examination of two exemplary Facebook posts uncovered the evolution of Islamist discourse about women, emphasizing its polarised and polarising stance. The overthrow of dictatorship and the consequent change of the political landscape allowed for a change in the discursive paradigm of interaction between feminists and Islamists that I illustrated in the introduction. The solidarity of different, even ideologically contradictory, discourses against the authoritarian regime of Ben Ali became no longer tangible, and thus was the compromise temporary. In order to reach this conclusion, I analysed two Facebook posts through critical discourse analysis. The posts, quite representative of the overall content of Facebook material during the transitory phase, centred on the specific association of the Democrat Women (ATFD). This focus suggests the Islamist targeting of the openly feminist and the openly secular. ATFD are, in effect, very vocal about their secular feminist convictions. I noted a recurrent association of feminism with the threatening Other. The latter is articulated discursively through a myriad of methods including for example the play of colours, the metaphors, and the slogans. The feminist woman, constructed as the other, catalyses the political, ethical, and cultural threat facing the Islamist identity of post-revolutionary Tunisia. ATFD women are associated with the dictatorship of Ben Ali. They are portrayed in both posts as a distorted representation of the Tunisian woman, imposed by authoritarianism. Islamists construct vocal feminists as urban and elitist media of control perpetuated by Ben Ali. Francophonism is one significant discursive method of complementing political corruption and elitist urbanism. Feminists are construed as Francophone abject bodies within the ‘authentic’ Muslim composition of Tunisian identity. They are conveyers of francophone irregular ethical, sexual, and cultural values. Therefore, the posts end up polarising feminism against the religious, heterosexual, and independent (from France) ideals of the transitory phase. These discursive constructions of feminists are disempowering, especially in the peculiar phase of transition. They aim at the disposal of feminist demands, undermining their potential to adapt to a non-Western and non-secular landscape such as that of Tunisia.

Manel Zouabi is a doctoral researcher at the Centre for Women’s Studies at the University of York. Her research interests are North African women, feminist theory, feminist political theory, and cultural and digital reproduction of texts about women.


Primary sources

Ghannoushi, S. (2011). Between True and Fake Feminism (Bayna Nasaweya Al-Hakikiya wal Muzayafa). [On: Facebook] Available at: -%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%B2%D9%8A%D9%81%D8%A9/196286637115354 [Accessed 10 July, 2015]

Koora Tunisie. (2012). The Representatives of the Islamist associations on TV7 humiliated Bochra Belhaj Hmida, and showed her the real worth she has, in all politeness :))))))( ممثلي الجمعيات الاسلامية في قناة تونس 7 يهنتلو بشرى بالحاج حميده و يوريوها قدرها بكل أدب وتربية :))))))). [On: Facebook] Available at: [Accessed 12 June, 2016]

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1 Islamism is employed in this article to loosely denote a political movement with a religious ideological framework inspired by the Egyptian Islamist Brotherhood.

2 1979: the Iranian Revolution and the consequent establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

3 ليست هناك حركة نسوية بالمفهوم العلمي الدقيق الذي يمكن من التعمق في دراستها، مثلما هو الشأن بالنسبة إلى الحركات النسوية في الغرب التي خضعت لمراجعات تناولت الموجة الأولى فالثانية فالثالثة، ودرست آفاق ما بعد النسوية. وإنما هناك في العالم العربي تيارات، وهي لا تمثل كتلة منسجمة ومتآلفة، كل ما هناك هو فكر نسوي تتبناه جماعة من النساء بطريقة فردية، أو أحيانا تشتغل بعض الجمعيات وفق أسسه. وبناء على ذلك لا يمكن الحديث عن هوية حركة أو جهود ملموسة, غاية ما في الأمر أن الفكر النسوي متحرك بين مد وجزر، ويشهد، في اعتقادي، عملية إحياء بعد الثورات العربية نتيجة التراجع والعنف المسلط على النساء، بما يدفعهن إلى مزيد البحث عن آليات للمقاومة، ومنها الآليات التي تنتجها الفلسفة النسوية المعولمة

4 The Tunisian Revolution took place on January 2011. It was a series of popular uprisings which led to the overthrow of the Ben Ali authoritarian regime. It led to political plurality and democratic elections twice, once ending by the victory of the Islamist Party En-nahda, the second time marked by the victory of the Bourguibist Liberal Party of Nidaa Tounes

5 ‘Good luck’, in specific circumstances, may mean ‘a good husband’.

6 Habib Bourguiba was the first Tunisian post-independence president. He led social reform (Code of Personal Status) in favour of women’s rights and wider participation in public domains.

7 L’ATFD a été fondée par le mouvement autonome des femmes qui, depuis les années 1970 a eu, à travers différentes structures, des formes d’expression diverses:
1978 Club d’études de la condition des femmes « Tahar Haddad » .
1982 Commission d’études de la condition des femmes travailleuses de L’UGTT.
1983 Revue « Nissa »
1984 Commission femmes de la Ligue tunisienne des droits de l’homme.
1988 Naissance

8 Tunisian women, unlike men, are required to engage maritally only to men of Muslim faith.


ممثلي الجمعيات الاسلامية في قناة تونس 7 يهنتلو بشرى بالحاج حميده و يوريوها قدرها بكل أدب وتربية :))))))

10 Arabic version:

ممثلي الجمعيات الاسلامية في قناة تونس 7 يهنتلو بشرى بالحاج حميده و يوريوها قدرها بكل أدب وتربية :))))))
الشيخ قال لبشرى بالحاج حميده :" نتفكر مليح كيف قلت J’aiConfianceen ben ali "
ههههههههههه بردلي على قلبي كي عرفها قدرها و قالها انت في 2007 تدافع على المثليين و تدعين للزواج المثلي يعني تحب ولدي يجيني نهار اخر ويقلي بابا نحب نعرس بطفل ايجا اخطبلي هههههههه و بعد نمشي لبوه نقلو جيتك خاطب في ولد الحسب والنسب هههههه
بشرى الحاج حميدة دخلت بعضها و ما عرفتش شنوة ترد و اصبحت في حالة هيستيرية
وحتى المذيعة اللي كانت طول الحصة معاها ضد الشيوخ و اعطاتها الكلمة اكثر منهم وديما تقص عليهم قصت عالحلقة فجاة و ادارة التلفزة جابو برنامج مسجل عالحيوانات البرية وهذا ما يدل انو القناة اللاوطنية قناة غير محايدة و غير نزيهة و كيف عرفو رواحهم انهزمو بالحجة امام الشيوخ اللي حججهم كانت قوية وتاثيرهم كبير عالعباد و هوما قصوها ضربة واحدة ... ملة فضيحة

11 Popular expression to identify members of ATFD.

12 Comparable to anti-Christ in Christianity.

13 Original transcription:

نعتبروا الخطاب un moment historique.

آنا اليوم j’ai confiance en Ben Ali, je vous dis. Je le dis devant tous le monde

14 This form of sexuality deconstructs, according to certain popular Tunisian rhetoric, the conventional (gendered) apparatuses of family composition, and of femininity and masculinity. Homosexual men, in particular, are thought to be ‘be feminised […] in their mannerism and attitudes’ (Moran, 2002,p. 111). In addition, homosexuality is associated with a myriad of negative sexual, medical and religious myths. A large part of Tunisians relate same sex activity to paedophilia, i.e., (forced) sex with minors. They also associate the practice with sexually transmitted diseases, unnatural form of behaviour and Godly anger. The throne of Allah is thought to shake in anger every time homosexual acts are committed on earth. Given the lack of Islamic texts proving it, some Islamic scholars, notably Amel Grami (2015), debunk the myth of the shaking of the Godly throne. As to legislation, the Article 230 issued in 1913, criminalises same sex intercourse. Samir Dilou, an Islamist politician and the Minister of Human Rights during the 2011 Islamist government, described homosexuality as a ‘perversion’. Dilou argued that homosexuals should be treated medically (Zoubir and White, 2016, p. 240). For example, Ahmed Ben Amor, the vice President of the Tunisian association SHAMS for the protection of gay rights, notes that ‘Tunisia is an extremely homophobic society and there are some here who want to terrorize us [advocates of/homosexuals] and make our lives hard’ (Ben Amor, 2015).

15 The second post below uses ‘the Parisian Club’ as a semiotic signifier of feminists, ‘women of ‘the Parisian club’ who restrict women’s rights to wearing a mini-jip, smoking a cigarette and drinking a bottle of alcohol in a nightclub.

16 I employ the French form of the term following the different English sources I consulted. The different spelling for linguistic-cultural and political francophonie is worth noting. The linguistic-cultural is with a lowercase letter: francophonie. The political, however; is with a capital letter: Francophonie. I use them variably according to the context.

17 Bourguiba argued, in what Salhi describes as a ‘lyrical’ political speech (Salhi, 2010, p.14) that anti-colonial resistance targeted assimilationist, and not linguistic, dimensions of French colonizer.



[20] Please see chapter 5 of my forthcoming doctoral thesis, ‘Post-revolutionary Tunisia: Islamist Constructions of Women on Facebook’ (University of York).

[21] Notably Treaty of Hudaybiyyah (628 AD) and the Battle of Badr (642 AD)

[22]كي قريت "المقال" متاعك ما فهمتش شنو الفرق في المبادئ بين لي تسمّيه نسوية حقيقة و نسوية مزيّفة.
تنجّمشي تزيد تتعق اكثر في التحليل و تورّي الحجج متاعك و تخرج شوية مالسبّان؟

[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin 78 (Winter 2016/17), pp. 79-104]

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