More than six years ago, the Arab Spring took the international community by surprise. The emergence of Islamist political parties after the revolution became a noticeable trend in the Arab world. Many wondered what the implications for women’s causes would be when arbitrated within the framework of Islamist principles. This blog examines the positions of two highly visible Islamist parties — Al-Nahda in Tunisia and the Justice and Development Party in Morocco — on the criminalization of domestic violence.
Al-Nahda: The organization and its position on gender-based violence
Created in 1981, Al-Nahda is a moderate Islamist party that was inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood. However, Al-Nahda is more moderate than the Muslim Brotherhood, and it maintains that dialogue and political pluralism are key to successful Tunisian politics. In the 2014 parliamentary elections, Al-Nahda won 67 seat out of 217 seats and worked with the Nidaa Tounes party to build a coalition.
In addressing the issue of gender-based violence in its electoral platform, Al-Nahda specifically states that it will “combat all forms of violence against women, and oppose compulsory dress code among women” in its platform. Interestingly, the question of gender-based violence emerged in the parliament in 2014, and Al-Nahda, along with other parties, had to address it.
In 2010, Tunisia’s National Board for Family and Population conducted a survey concerning the prevalence of domestic violence, and they found that 47.6 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 64 had experienced at least one episode of domestic violence in their lives. In response, the Ministry of Women and Family Affairs in 2014 created a draft bill criminalizing domestic violence. Al-Nahda supported the bill, stating that the party does not view protecting women from injury as contradicting Islamic law. The draft law was approved in July 2016, though it has yet to go into effect. Its provisions include prohibiting all forms of violence against women (physical, psychological, sexual or economic), and issuing prison sentences or financial penalties should the law be broken. The law criminalizes marital rape, ends impunity for rapists who marry their victims and also criminalizes sexual harassment, with either imprisonment or financial penalty as the consequence. The penalty for these transgressions largely appears to be imprisonment for differing degrees of time (with increased severity if the victim is a family member), rather than a protective measure, such as a restraining order.
It is important to note that the Ministry of Women and Family Affairs developed the draft law with the input of civil society activists, who participated in the form of creating training workshops and forging coalition partnerships from the onset of this endeavor. As such, their expertise was incorporated into the development of the law.
While many Tunisian women face practical challenges in bringing their cases to court due to patriarchal social norms and economic constraints, the law appears to be a significant improvement in legal protection from domestic violence.
The Justice and Development Party: The organization and its position on gender-based violence
The Moroccan Justice and Development Party (PJD) was also inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1970s. The party is more moderate that the Muslim Brotherhood, and it advocates Islamist democracy within the context of Morocco’s constitutional monarchy. The PJD won 125 out of 395 seats in the 2016 parliamentary elections, winning a plurality in parliament for the second consecutive election. While Minister of Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development Bassima Hakkaoui is a member of the PJD, the party’s views on women’s rights are more conservative than those of Moroccan activists who work on gender-based violence.
Similar to the Tunisian case, a 2009 survey conducted by the Moroccan High Commission for Planning found that among women aged 18-65, 62.8 percent reported experiencing domestic violence. In response to both these numbers and more than three decades of advocacy led by women’s groups, two ministries — the Ministry of Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development and the Ministry of Justice and Liberties — created a draft law and placed it before the general secretariat in September 2013. Due to criticism from women’s groups of the inadequacy of the scope of definition and protections provided under the proposed law, Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane placed the law under a direct commission to be revised, and it was presented before the general secretariat yet again in July 2016.
Though the Moroccan Justice and Legislation Parliamentary Committee consists of 44 members, only eight members voted, and the rest were absent. The vote was 5-3, with four of the five who voted in support of the bill being PJD members. In the 2016 plenary session of the House of Representatives, only 105 out of 395 MPs were present, and the majority of those who voted in support of the bill were also PJD members. Ultimately, the bill passed, though it has yet to go into effect.
At first glance, it appears as though the PJD is more concerned with criminalizing domestic violence than other parties; the unusually high rate of absenteeism would indicate that other parties are unconcerned with the alarming rate of domestic violence in Morocco. By that same token, the current draft law is inadequate. While the bill includes protective measures, such as removing abusers from the home and forbidding contact with the victim, it does not address other aspects of spousal abuse, such as marital rape. Moreover, the law does not draw upon the expertise of Moroccan civil society activists, thereby alienating those who have worked on this issue and who can contribute to the development of a more comprehensive law.
Similar to the Tunisian case, many Moroccan women face practical obstacles in seeking protection from domestic violence due to patriarchal norms and financial constraints, but these problems will be exacerbated by the fact that the draft law (once applied) will not protect them from many aspects of domestic violence to begin with.
It would be inappropriate to give either party full credit for the comprehensiveness of the legislation that protects women from domestic violence. However, it is clear that the involvement of Islamist parties played a role in their development in both Tunisia and Morocco. While the legislative bodies in both countries have previously deliberated over bills criminalizing domestic violence within the past four years, these processes yielded very different results. It is time to take a closer look at the role of Islamist parties, the degree to which they coordinate with governmental and nongovernmental actors and the resulting long-term implications for women.
 Hanane Zelouani Idrissi, author’s interview, January 25, 2017. Zelouani Idrissi is a Washington, D.C. based civil society expert and researcher on women’s issues in the MENA region.
 The Advocates for Human Rights and MRA Mobilising for Rights Associates, Morocco: Submission to the Human Rights Committee (New Tork, United Nations Office of the High Commissioner, 2016); Ibid.
 Kingdom of Morocco, House of Representatives. Draft Bill 103.13 Concerning Violence Against Women. Rabat: Morocco; Hanane Zelouani Idrissi, author’s interview, January 25, 2017.
 The Advocates for Human Rights and MRA Mobilising for Rights Associates. Morocco; Ibid.
 Kingdom of Morocco, House of Representatives. Draft Bill 103.13 Concerning Violence Against Women. Rabat: Morocco.
 Hanane Zelouani Idrissi, author’s interview, January 25, 2017.
Carla Abdo-Katsipis, Ph.D., is a guest writer for the Baker Institute Women’s Rights in the Middle East Program. She is a visiting research scholar at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University. Her research interests are gender politics, Middle East politics, electoral studies and quantitative research methodology.