A Tunisian member of the feminist group Femen was fined last Thursday and charged for carrying an “incendiary object'', in the central Tunisian city of Kairouan. A hearing has been scheduled for June 5 pending more serious charges, including desecrating a cemetery and offending public decency.
Amina Sboui, known as Amina Tyler, who was arrested on May 19 in Kairouan was charged with carrying a canister of pepper spray while protesting against a planned congress of the conservative religious group Ansar al-Sharia last Friday. The media reported that she was seen painting the word “Femen” on a wall near the Kairouan mosque. Amina admitted to possessing a gas spray when arrested.
Escorted by police, she entered the courthouse wearing a safsari, (white robe) a traditional cloth wrap worn by Tunisian women. Meanwhile outside the courthouse, hundreds of protesters gathered, shouting “Allahu akbar” (God is almighty) and “degage.”
Last March, 19-year-old Amina posted a photo of her naked upper body on Facebook bearing the slogan “my body belongs to me, and is not the source of the honor of anyone”. She announced that she is representing the Femen movement in Tunisia.
Founded in 2008, Femen, a Ukrainian feminist protest group with members around the world, organizes topless protests to advocate for women’s liberation. A day before the trial, two French women and a German Femen activists conducted a topless protest in Tunis in support of Amina: the first such protest organized by Femen in the Arab world. The three European women were themselves arrested and will be tried next week for public indecency, which carries a possible prison sentence, their lawyer said on Friday.
AFP reported that they will appear in court in Tunis on June 5 for “public indecency” and an “attack on public morals,” crimes both punishable by six months in jail in Tunisia.
Amina’s case has sparked controversy on the social media as well as among Tunisian society. During an interview with a commercial Tunisian channel last month, Amina said, “If I posted a picture of myself wearing a t-shirt with that slogan, it wouldn’t have had any impact.” She added that Tunisian women must “wake up” and realize they are living under oppression.
Tunisian filmmaker Nadia elFani, director of the controversial film Neither God nor Master, has also joined the movement. She posted a picture of herself on her Facebook page with “freedom” written in Arabic on her forehead and “for Amina” written on her arm in French. She bares one breast painted with an Arabic word meaning “dignity.”
In a press release, the Ministry of Religious Affairs condemned the Femen protests, considering them “provocative” and “contradictory to the morals and values of Tunisian Muslims.”
While Amina’s case is gaining notoriety, the Tunisian economy is still struggling to recover. Many protests over economic hardship have increased in a number of Tunisian cities to pressure the new government to create job opportunities and to improve our social conditions. In fact, according to figures released by the National Statistics Institute (INS), Tunisia's unemployment rate stood at 16.7% in the fourth quarter of 2012.