Political parties speak out on government’s circular banning face-covering clothes in public institutions
06/07/2019 18:04, TUNIS/Tunisia

(TAP) - The main parties represented in parliament commended the circular signed on July 5 by Prime Minister Youssef Chahed banning access to public administrations and institutions to anyone wearing face-covering clothes (niqab).

While some parties have reservations about the circular in question without calling into question the State’s sovereign function which is to ensure the safety of citizens, other political parties called for widening the scope of application of this circular to include public space.

These parties call in this regard, to change the nature of the circular to make it a law setting the sanctions to be applied in case of transgression, stressing the imperative to promulgate it in the form of a law to be adopted by the House of People's Representatives.

Although the Prime Ministry did not give further details on the reasons for the publication of the circular, most observers have established the link between this government decision and the double suicide attack on June 27, 2019 in Tunis.

This link is explained, among other things, by the information that had circulated that the terrorists had been moving by wearing the niqab to avert any suspicion against them.

In this regard, member of the Ennahdha parliamentary bloc Latifa Habechi said that the text of the circular does not explicitly mention the niqab but refers to anyone whose face is covered, pointing out that the country goes through exceptional circumstances. "It is imperative to make these provisions and understand them as we are at war against terrorism," she added.

Habeshi emphasized that the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution remain inherent to a number of factors, including: the right to security and the prohibition of undermining territorial integrity. Rights have no meaning if they are like anarchy, she argued.

For his part, spokesman for Nidaa Tounes Mongi Harbaoui (Hafedh Caid Essebsi’s faction) indicated that this decision is part of the prevention of terrorism. Despite the delay in making such a decision, it is no less crucial, he admitted.

While the circular is important, he insisted, however it must be revised because it does not remove the threat to public places such as commercial or cultural spaces (festivals), suggesting that the ban must include these spaces.

National Coalition MP Sahbi Ben Frej commended the adoption of the circular, calling on the parliamentary committee on general legislation to consider the bill he had proposed three years ago with deputies of the Al Horra block, prohibiting the concealment of the face in public spaces.

Secretary-General of Machrou Tounes Hassouna Nasfi affirmed his party’s support to the government’s decision, considering that it has taken a positive step, especially as the country lives through state of emergency and declared war against terrorism.

He invited the Parliamentary Committee on General Legislation to give priority to the bill submitted by his block for examination since March 2016 and is still pending.

According to Secretary-General of the People's Movement Zouheir Hamdi the general situation of the country and the demands of security require such a decision, in spite of the recriminations of some denouncing a restriction of freedoms. He said, however, that the scope of the circular concerns public institutions rather than public places, which is the responsibility of the prime minister, he specified, who can widen the scope.

Leader of the Democratic Current (Attayar) Ghazi Chaouachi estimated that the government should have issued a decree regulating access to institutions and public administrations demanding to reveal the face, to carry out an identity check and to a search and prohibiting the wearing of indecent clothes. Instead, he argues, the government had issued a circular with an infringement of a constitutional right that may be invalidated by the administrative court such as circular 108 under Ben Ali prohibiting the wearing of headscarves.

According to him, the Constitution and laws must be respected without distinction between citizens. The wearing of the niqab has a religious dimension. For some, it constitutes an individual freedom, he justified, stating that the concealment of the face does not concern only those wearing the niqab but can be a sign of illness or a way to dress in certain regions.

He pointed out that the security situation requires such precautions without preventing the citizens from benefiting from administrative services. Because, he insisted, there is no evidence that anyone who conceals his face is necessarily a terrorist or linked to extremism. The State, he concluded, is called to fulfil its role in preserving the security of citizens and the respect of their rights.


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