Tunisian blogger and political reformer Sofiane Shurabi has been arrested by the government for drinking in public during Ramadan. We recently saw how Saudi Arabia issued warnings to non-Muslims that they were expected to respect the food and drink limitations of Ramadan in public. This arrest comes with added suspicion of a political agenda since Shurabi was a scathing critic of deposed president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and an opponent to the rising control of Islamic parties over the country.
Shurabi, a young woman, and a journalist friend were arrested on a beach for allegedly “being drunk in a public place, disturbance of the peace and unacceptable behaviour.” They could face up to seven months in prison for simply drinking in public during Ramadan.
Shurabi works for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and has been a critic of the dominant Islamist party Al-Nahda.
In criticizing such cases, we should keep in mind that this country long had “blue laws” that prohibited shopping and alcohol sales on Sunday to reinforce religious values. Those laws have largely fallen to the wayside though some remnants remain. The recent cases out of countries like Saudi Arabia (which does not allow churches or public worship from other faiths) and Tunisia is that the laws are meant to require adherence to the practices of one faith.
Increasingly, the denial of free exercise and free speech is being carried out in the name of “tolerance” and “respect” rather than a simple insistence of orthodoxy. The rhetorical change does little for those who wish to practice their own faith or no faith.