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Are brothels and bikinis signs of progress for Arab women?

No. So why has the Western media used them as a gauge of social freedoms? Sexual exploitation isn't sexual liberation. Women in the emerging democratic movements in the Middle East stand between the twin dangers of Islamist and secular fundamentalism. They deserve better.

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Western media have too often measured emerging democracies by the yardstick of “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” A recent article in The New York Times, “Next Question for Tunisia: The Role of Islam in Politics,” appears to offer the additional standards of “brothels,” “beer,” and “bikinis.”

The article recounts how a few weeks ago in Tunisia, “military helicopters and security forces were called in to carry out an unusual mission: protecting the city’s brothels from a mob of zealots.” The set-up and analysis that ensues seems to suggest that democratic aspirations are preserved in Tunisia’s recent safeguarding of these state-sanctioned brothels. The article goes on to highlight the fears that growing Islamist influence in Tunisia will threaten women’s rights. But the real question is this: Were Tunisian forces in this case protecting women from Islamic extremists, or were they protecting the rights of brothel owners and users to sell and buy women?

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