By: LISA VIVES
Global Information Network
In a first for Tunisia’s fledgling democracy, an openly gay candidate has thrown his hat in the ring in the race for the presidency.
Mounir Baatour, a lawyer at Tunisia’s highest court, heads Shams, the country’s main LGBTQ rights group fighting for the decriminalization of homosexuality in the country.
His bid for office is a first not only for the North African nation that set in motion 2011’s Arab Spring uprisings, but for the Arab world at large.
The 48 year old Baatour has an extensive campaign platform including equality between women and men, defending minorities and recognizing the rights of people of the Amazigh ethnic group in addition to LGBT rights.
Writing on Facebook, Baatour stated: “Tunisia needs a democratic agenda that can include the different identities, cultures, beliefs and languages of this country. Our program aims to democratize power, by strengthening the weight of Parliament and giving more weight to local institutions.”
The activist and aspiring candidate also pledged to abolish the death penalty, end discrimination between children born in marriage and out of marriage, abolish the dowry as a condition for marriage, and enshrine equal inheritance between men and women.
LGBTQ Tunisians face both legal and social discrimination. Reports of family rejection, violence in public spaces, violence within families and suicides are quite common. Baatour himself spent three months behind bars in 2013 for alleged “sodomy”. Shams, the advocacy group Baatour co-founded, has on several occasions seen its activities suspended.
“My goal is to liberate Tunisia from the old parties and the traditional way of governing that has brought Tunisia its troubles,” Baatour told the Rassef 22 website.
Baatour has also weathered insults on social media and been accused of bringing “shame” on Tunisia. Some fellow Tunisian lawyers have called for him to be disbarred on the grounds that he “causes grave harm to the image of the Bar.”
Tunisia’s elections are scheduled for September 15 with campaigning to get underway on Sept. 2. Ninety-eight contenders officially submitted their bids by the deadline, with the election commission due to rule on August 31 which candidates meet the criteria to stand for the office.
Other parties in the field include the influential Ennahda party, formerly an Islamist party but now self-described as a party of Muslim democrats