Face Veil Ban for State Offices Risks Ire in Lone Arab Democracy

(Bloomberg) -- Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed ordered a ban on the Muslim face veil known as the niqab in public offices, in a move that may trigger a political outcry from rights groups as well as Islamists.

Chahed said the decision was “to preserve public order” in a memo addressed to his cabinet members, local councils and public firms on Friday. The measure takes immediate effect and applies to both public sector employees and visitors, government spokesman Mofdi Mseddi said.

Tunisia was rocked by twin suicide bombings last month that killed two people, including a policeman, and wounded eight others in an act claimed by Islamic State. Earlier this week, a militant who the government described as the mastermind of the attacks blew himself up.

Chahed has called the violence a bid to derail the nation’s drive to revive its economy, years after the 2011 uprising that ousted long-time authoritarian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and heralded the Arab Spring.

While the majority of Tunisian female public sector employees don’t wear the niqab, Islamists are a strong political force in the North African nation, and advocates of greater personal freedoms may also frown on the move. The Islamist Ennahda party holds a little under a third of seats in parliament, second to the secular Nidaa Tounes party.

Earlier Friday, President Beji Caid Essebsi, who heads Nidaa, signed a decree signaling that parliamentary elections due on Oct. 6 and a presidential vote in November will go ahead. The 92-year-old head of state had been hospitalized for about four days after falling ill last week, raising questions over whether he would be able to approve the legislation.

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