Tunisian mosques freed from former regime restrictions


TUNIS - Imams routinely praised Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Friday prayers but a week after his dramatic downfall, his name was pointedly absent from their sermons, worshippers said.

Also gone were the groups of police that had always been deployed outside mosques for the weekly prayer, supposedly to safeguard against Islamist threats, they said.

"Normally the imam starts with incantations like 'may God bless our president Zine El Abidine ben Ali'," said worshipper Anas Tamallah, 26, outside the central Al-Fath mosque.

This Friday the disgraced leader had been dropped, and instead the imam opened with a prayer for the "memory of the martyrs of the revolution", he said, a reference to the victims of protests that toppled the ex-ruler.

There was also no mention of Ben Ali, once referred to as "the protector of the nation and religion", in the sermon at the city's main mosque, Zitouna, said General Mohktar Ben Tekhiat after he attended prayers.

Under Ben Ali's authoritarian regime, weekly sermons were inspired or written by the religious affairs ministry.

The new transitional government has introduced unprecedented freedoms as Ben Ali's grip on power is dismantled.

Imams recited prayers for the "martyrs of the revolution" in mosques across Tunisia on Friday.

State television broadcast prayers from the Koran for the 78 people that officials say were killed when security forces cracked down on the wave of social protests that began last month.

The new government has announced major democratic reforms such as the release of all political prisoners, complete media freedom and the registration of previous banned political movements -- including the Islamist Ennahdha.

Source: Middle East Online

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