Tunisians risk being charged with “indecent acts” if they dare to eat and drink in public during Ramadan, a holy month when most observant Muslims fast during daylight. Yet not everyone in Tunisia thinks this is fair and, on Sunday, June 11, about 100 people held a protest in Tunis demanding the freedom to choose whether they fast or not.

The protest was organised by the Fater collective (“fater” refers to someone who doesn’t fast). Activists used the slogan and hashtag “Mech Bessif”, which translates roughly as “not by force” [Editor’s note: As in, no one should be forced to fast].

For the past few years, members of the collective have been agitating for non-believers to have the right to eat and drink in public during Ramadan. 

The gathering held on June 11 was supposed to be a picnic in support of four young people who were arrested in Bizerte ten days earlier after they were caught eating, drinking and smoking in a park. They were sentenced to a month in prison, with the attorney general of the Bizerte district court commenting that “they could have just eaten in a different place, hidden from view, instead of trying to stir up hate between people".

Fater posted these photos and videos of the protest on its Facebook page.


Should people have to hide if they choose not to respect the Ramadan fast?

This question resurfaces each year in Tunisia, where existing legislation leaves room for multiple interpretations. There is no law banning the consumption of food and alcohol in public. The Tunisian constitution guarantees everyone “freedom of religion and conscience” -- a phrase that has been used to uphold the ideas of both believers and non-believers. At the same time, the Tunisian state is also the “guardian of religion".

For those who aren’t keeping the fast, it remains difficult to find a place open during daylight hours -- except for the big international hotels and a few restaurants in touristy areas. Those who choose to eat a meal in public risk being interrupted by a police officer or an overzealous fellow citizen.

On its Facebook page, Fater denounces this kind of moral policing by authorities and everyday people. The collective also uses social media to advertise bars and restaurants that are open during the day.