Rome (AsiaNews) - The scientific committee of Oasis, the magazine about Christian-Muslim dialogue founded by Card. Angelo Scola, meets this year in Tunis on 18 and 19 June to try to understand the emerging trends of the "Jasmine Revolution" that began in Tunisia and spread among the Arab dictatorships, breaking up old balances and opening new tensions and problems.
More than 50 personalities from around the world - academics, bishops, experts, journalists - will meet in the capital for a series of testimonies, studies, discussions on the theme: "Religion in a society in transition. Tunisia calls upon the West."
The relevancy of the theme is evident from the way the Arab revolutions are evolving. What first begin as a "revolt for dignity" to demand labor, human rights, justice, democracy, have gradually been taken over or endangered by fundamentalist Salafi Islam, shaking the same liberal forces that set the change in motion.
Tunisia is the clearest symbol of this long labor: after the self-immolation of Muhammad Bouazizi, the spark that set off the revolt, and the ouster of dictator Ben Ali (who fled to Saudi Arabia), the most secularized country in the Arab world now finds itself faced with a revival of fundamentalist Islam, which previously was outlawed. The elections - which saw the participation of 80% of the population, a first in the nation's history - led to the victory of Islamists under the banner of the Ennhada party and Salafis. The latter fight to force women to wear headscarves and to re-write the constitution, making sharia the basic law. Ennhada has a more moderate position and rejects the more extreme aspects of Sharia law and Islam, perhaps due to concerns about the economic consequences that these choices may have on tourism and trade.
Earlier this week, the Salafis attacked an art exhibition in La Marsa where they claimed the works were "blasphemy" against Islam, burning some. Police arrested 50 Salafis, accusing them of terrorism. One day later, on June 13 last, a military court sentenced in absentia Ben Ali to 20 years in prison. Fearful of Islamist unrest or tensions created by the former regime, the government declared a curfew from 21 to 5 am. The curfew was lifted today.
But the problems remain and centre around what place Islam should have in a modern and pluralistic society. The Tunisian Salafists, for example, also see trade unions and Communists as enemies, considered "atheists" and unfit to live in the Muslim world. Thus, the "Jasmine Revolution" is opening the way for a debate and a clash between different types of Islam.
The Tunis meeting will include testimonies from several Ennhada personalities, as well as reports from some scholars from other Muslim countries, on the influence of the "Jasmine Revolution" in their region.
The place of religion and Islam in society also concerns Christian minorities. At first suspicious of the revolution, they became its supporters, before giving way to concern about the Islamist future that lies ahead. They claim a place for religion in society - as opposed to a secular or secularist liberalism, present in the West - but at the same time demand guarantees for them and for every minority, with a right to full citizenship in building society. At this point, is the much-anticipated speech of Mgr. Maroun Lahham, former Archbishop of Tunis, recently appointed Latin Patriarchal Vicar in Jordan.
A portion of the meeting will be dedicated to the position taken by the West, dominated by economic pragmatism and prepared, in the name of stability, to leave room for a fundamentalist Middle East (see the cases of Libya and Syria), while pursuing a policy of exclusion of religion at home.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar (uninvited) will also star at the meeting, which - having stifled the Jasmine Revolution at home - are funding fundamentalist Islam in Libya, Egypt, Syria and Tunisia. It is no coincidence that the Salafi attacks earlier this week started immediately after an appeal by Al Zawahiri, leader of al Qaeda, calling on Muslims to fight for Tunisians to implement sharia in the country.