Religious minorities put faith in Tunisia's democracy

Wed Nov 9, 2011 6:28am EST
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By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

TUNIS (Reuters) - Minority Jews and Christians are putting their faith in Tunisia's nascent democracy to ensure its new Islamist-led leadership respects their rights in this traditionally secular state.

Religious minorities in the Arab world have mostly lost out when dictators are toppled and radical Islamists exploit the power vacuum to attack non-Muslims. The targeting of Christians in Iraq and Egypt constitutes a frightening example.

Tunisia, birthplace of the first Arab Spring uprising, stands as a cautious exception. Minorities are staying here and hoping for the best.

"The Tunisian people, including the Jews, have understood that democracy is the best solution for everybody," said Khelifa Attoun, a Tunis businessman who is vice-president of the local Jewish community.

"The democratic spirit is there," said the Jordanian-born Roman Catholic Archbishop of Tunis, Maroun Lahham.

"This is not Iran, Pakistan or Saudi Arabia - it's not Switzerland or Sweden either," he said. "This will be a real Arab democracy, with a Muslim coloring."

Their cautious optimism echoed comments by Muslim analysts who expect Ennahda, the moderate Islamist party that won 41.7 percent of the October 23 vote for a new assembly, to substantiate its claim that Islam and democracy are compatible.

"Ennahda is not going to throw away this opportunity that history has given it," said Sofiane Ben Farhat, a senior editor at the daily La Presse de Tunisie.   Continued...