Tunisian police shut down restaurants during Ramadan

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Relying on old cancelled decrees, some municipalities are closing cafes and restaurants seen to be breaking Ramadan’s fast.

Once again, in this month of Ramadan and for the fourth consecutive year after the revolution, cafes, restaurants and many people are experiencing the same problem, namely the inability to eat or drink during the day in restaurants.

Enjoying a legal and legislative fuzziness, the various concerned authorities — municipalities, governorates and security agencies — are acting on their whim and imposing their dictates.

Thus, for the fourth consecutive Ramadan since 2011, security raids — somewhat forceful — are being conducted against places to force them to obey a circular issued more than 30 years ago. It is called the “Mzali circular of July 1981.” Others speak of a municipal circular or one from the Ministry of the Interior under the troika government.

The Mzali circular of July 1981 calls for closing cafes and restaurants during Ramadan, as well as prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages. But only two days after it was released, it was canceled by a decision by the head of state at the time, Habib Bourguiba.

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In an appeal titled the “177 for freedom of religious practice,” published in The Maghreb on July 11, 1981, the signatories emphasized “the progress made by Tunisia in matters of religious tolerance,” which was threatened by the rise of Islamist movements, and called for a general mobilization of Tunisians to preserve this space of freedom.

More than 30 years later, the governor of Ariana, Baha Eddine Baccari, indicated in 2012 that police patrols have been deployed on the first day of Ramadan and that warnings were sent to the cafes and restaurants of Ennasr city to apply the requirements of the holy month and the circular of the Ministry of Interior issued for this purpose.

In other words, during this holy month of Ramadan, security forces are mobilized to enforce a nonexistent law, one about closing cafes and restaurants during the hours of fasting. This has been true for the past four years.

It should be noted that the spokesman of the Ministry of the Interior at the time, Khaled Tarrouche, said that closing these facilities is in accordance with “procedures in effect for several years and there is no exceptional measures,” before stating on July 21, 2012 that “those restrictions were applied at the time of Ben Ali and the police are only continuing to apply them.”

For his part, the governor of Tunis cited a circular issued to this effect by the Ministry of the Interior — a circular that, in the opinion of many lawyers, is legally meaningless even if it exists. Also, the application of this ghostly circular depends on the mood and the wishes of security forces to close restaurants, even in shopping malls, as was the case two years ago at Centre de Carrefour.

On July 2, 2014, security forces raided the Ennasr neighborhood in the governorate of Ariana to close all open restaurants, except those considered “touristic,” which retain the right to sell food “to go.”

But from where does the governor of Ariana get this authority? The Ministry of Interior was contacted by Business News and it categorically denied having given orders to that effect. The ministry added that these orders seem to have been given by some municipalities by referring to their code. Does this mean that every municipality enforces laws and circulars according to their own interpretation? There is good reason to fear such inclinations.

What’s more, a legal consultant told us that there is no law in Tunisia that forces people to fast. According to him, the governor of Ariana (again) is citing an old order of 30 years ago that has been decreed by the governor of Tunis and that forbids eating or drinking in public during Ramadan.

He said that this law, which was considered dead, was revived by former Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh, adding that the governor has no right to refer to it because the decree concerned the Tunis governorate, besides the fact that there is no explicit law requiring fasting. According to the legal consultant, restaurateurs and aggrieved citizens can complain to the administrative tribunal and would win.

Let’s also note that these practices of intolerance were propagated by fear. The Tunisians seemed to say: It’s better to apply these restrictions than be hounded by the Salafists, who were making the laws in the troika era.

Indeed, Ennahda executives and ministers promoted a fundamentalist discourse. Thus Noureddine Khademi, former Tunisian minister of religious affairs, did not hesitate to say on July 6, 2013 that closing cafes and restaurants is mandatory in the month of Ramadan.

For Khademi, “Ramadan is a month of holy fasting and opening cafes during this month is not permitted by religion. In accordance with the precepts of Islam, which is the religion of the people and the state, opening any restaurant or cafe is not allowed because it goes against the feelings of the people, against the identity of the Tunisian people and [against] the sacredness of this month, and would cause inconvenience and disruption.”

Khademi nevertheless remains open-minded and very tolerant, because, as he said, “if a person doesn’t want to fast, he is free, but he doesn’t have the right to say it, much less do it, publicly.”

As can be seen, it seems that the troika and Ennahda are still making the laws, even after their departure and the arrival of a government of technocrats. In some administrations and municipalities, some still have the ability to impose measures, sometimes illegal, without going through the government, at least for some situations where they have the latitude to play on the sensitive chord that is religion, and more specifically, Ramadan.

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Found in: tunisian politics, society, restaurants, ramadan, ennahda party
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