Sir, Saadia Zahidi is quite right to argue that “ Womenomics is starting to transform the Muslim world” (November 14). But credit where credit is due: the founder of modern Tunisia, Habib Bourguiba, gave women equal rights, except where inheritance was concerned, when he enacted the Statut du Code Personel, the year his country gained independence from France in 1956. Family planning followed a few years later, decades before French, Italian, Spanish and many other European women enjoyed the same rights.

Women in Tunisia have long been active in business, often at the highest level. Ouided Bouchamaoui, the chair of the employers federation, has played a key economic role since the fall of President Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali. The active part played by three generations of educated women helps to explain why popular resistance to the Islamist Ennahda government’s attempt to turn back the clock was so fierce. It also explains why Ennahda lost votes to the more secular coalition led by Nida Tunes, whose veteran leader is a politician of the Bourguiba school, Beji Caid Essebsi, in the second free general elections since the end of the dictatorship.

Tunisia will most likely be the first Arab country where democracy takes root, not least because of the contribution educated women enjoying equal rights with their menfolk have made to the public debate about the country’s future. If Mr Essebsi is elected president in the presidential elections due before the end of the year, Tunisia will deserve all the financial and political support the west can muster. Will Europe in particular, for once, put its money where its mouth is?

Francis Ghilès

Senior Research Fellow, CIDOB,

Barcelona, Spain

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