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Religion and Security in Democratizing Tunisia: Re-enacting Surveillance through Religious Narratives and Gendered Dynamics
Abstract by Dr. Fabrizio Leonardo Cuccu
Coauthors: Alessandra Bonci
On Session III-26  (Democratic Backsliding in Tunisia)

On Friday, November 3 at 8:30 am

2023 Annual Meeting

The State control over religion is rooted in Tunisia's history, since Bourguiba elaborated a specific idea of a Tunisian Islam after independence (Hibou 2009, Webb 2013). It has been common practice for the two authoritarian rulers to portray themselves as protectors of the country and creators of a state-led Islam (McCarthy 2014). In order to do this, they employed a highly repressive security apparatus depicted as the only defence against radical Islamists. The 2011 revolution led to a temporary break of this cycle of control and repression and demonstrated, among other things, how many people were excluded by this mainstream idea of a Tunisian Islam. After a few years, however, the democratically elected governments reappropriated techniques and narratives similar to the ones used by Bourguiba and Ben Ali, depicting themselves as an example of a successful and moderate Islam and using the pre-revolutionary system of security and control. National governments before and after the revolution maintained strict control over religion and religious authorities through the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Created in 1991, the Ministry is in charge of the functioning of mosques and religious education, the nomination and the training of imams and preachers, and the supervision over religious narratives and practices in the country (Frégosi 2003). Imams became state-appointed officials working under the Ministry, and under the supervision of wa’dh and wa’ydhat, workers under the Ministries of Interior and Religious Affairs whose duty is the surveillance of religious figures such as imams and koranic teachers. Through ethnographic interviews, this research examines how controllers respond to the strategies of surveillance put in place by the security sector and to the narratives utilized to legitimise the control of specific suspect categories of individuals, in order to examine how micro-practices of security shape the larger security sector and how security practitioners negotiate their role within it. By examining how security measures take advantage of the work of female civil servants (wa'ydhat), we highlight the way in which “practical security measures are experienced, felt and managed by individuals” (Crawford and Hutchinson 2016), explaining how these practitioners respond to the gendered dynamics existing in the security sector, and to the narratives used to legitimise the existing system of state control over religion.
Political Science
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