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Tunisia: The World Social Forum 2013 is underway
an article by Guylainmoke's Blog

The World Social Forum (WSF) 2013 Annual Meeting - an alternative to globalization - opened Tuesday in Tunis with a discussion on the status of women. It marks the second anniversary of the Arab Spring that has seen Islamists come to power in several amid accusations of their discrimination against women.

Preparations for the World Social Forum in Tunis, March 23, 2013 - photo from the website of Guylainmoke

click on photo to enlarge

Some 30,000 people and 4,500 organizations are expected to attend the twelfth edition of the WSF. It is the first to beheld in the Arab world. It presents an alternative to the annual Davos Forum which brings together the world's political and economic elite. The forum began Tuesday in a festive atmosphere on the campus of the University of Manar with a "meeting of women in struggle" against discrimination.

Tunisian feminists in particular have strongly criticized the Islamist Ennahda party, who lead the Tunisian government, accusing them of wanting to reverse the gains that have been made, unique in the Arab world, instead of promoting gender equality. "Ennahda wants to establish Sharia law and deprive women of their liberty. It is the same project as in Egypt" where the Muslim Brotherhood has held power since the revolution of 2011, emphasized Zeineb Chihi a university participant in a meeting that brought together hundreds of people.

Addressing the crowd, Ahlem Belhadj, president of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women, in turn denounced "violence directed against women to keep them out of politics."

Tunisian media associations have repeatedly accused Ennahda of intending to limit the rights of women, although the Islamist party has denied that they will base the Constitution on Sharia- Islamic law. However, in the eyes of many organizations, an aborted attempt by Ennahda in 2012 to introduce the concept of "complementarity" of the sexes instead of equality in the future Basic Law, indicates the real intentions of Ennahda.

The role of women is at the heart of the WSF with dozens of workshops to be held in Tunis until 30 March. They concern not the economic and political issues but also very sensitive topics in the Muslim world such as sexuality.

The opening of the World Social Forum will also be marked Tuesday by a large demonstration through the city center from 1500 GMT.

The following days some 1,000 workshops are planned on a myriad of topics. "The revolutionary process, revolts, uprisings, civil wars and disputes" will be the central theme according to organizers. These themes emphasize the convergence of the demands of the Arab Spring, motivated by poverty and unemployment, as well as protest movements in the West, particularly in Europe in response to economic austerity and costly rescue plans for over-leveraged financial institutions.

The Tunisian authorities have deployed important security measures to ensure the smooth running of the WSF, since the country has been shaken by successive waves of social violence and bloody unrest orchestrated by the radical Islamist movement. Tunisian Minister of Social Affairs, Khalil Zawiya, a secular ally of Ennahda, said that the Forum demonstrates the commitment of his country to democracy. "The choice of Tunisia to host the Forum proves that this is a country where there is a wide range of freedoms," he said on national television. With regard to economics, the Minister said he hoped that the WSF will "usher in early the tourist season," which is a strategic economic sector, but which has been undermined by the instability caused by the revolution of January 2011.

(Click here for a French version of this article)


Question(s) related to this article:

World Social Forums, Advancing the Global Movement for a Culture of Peace?

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Latest reader comment:

At the Forum, almost everything touched on the culture of peace, although only a few speakers linked their talks to the UN initiative, prompting a leader of the French Peace movement to remark he was disappointed that the culture of peace was not better represented at the Forum. The response to CPNN was positive, but most people were unaware of its existence.  Next time there should be culture of peace events, pins and t-shirts, as well as the CPNN cards and flyers that we gave out.

This report was posted on March 31, 2013.