Freedom of Conscience and LGBT Rights in Tunisia and Morocco: The Spring is Yet to Come – 5in10 with Tommaso Virgili

Tommaso Virgili is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Migration, Integration, Transnationalization Department of the WZB Berlin Social Science Center and a Research Associate at the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies in Brussels. At the WZB, he works on Islamism and liberal Islam in connection with individual rights, with a focus on Europe and the MENA region. On these topics, he has published academic and policy articles, as well as the book Islam, Constitutional Law and Human Rights. Sexual Minorities and Freethinkers in Egypt and Tunisia, Routledge, 2022. Tommaso holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Public Law and a Master’s degree in Law from Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa and a Master of Arts in Middle East and Islamic Studies with Arabic from the American University of Paris and Cairo.

Tommaso Virgili

How do you explain your work to someone who may not be an expert in the same field of inquiry and comes from another geographical context?

My work focuses on issues related to LGBT rights and freedom of conscience in Tunisia. I especially examine the legal and social hurdles experienced by gay people, religious minorities and atheists. In Tunisia, as in many parts of the world, these issues are deeply intertwined with cultural, religious, social, and legal frameworks. I try to disentangle these aspects and to understand how moral and religious considerations inform the formation, interpretation, and application of laws that lead to discrimination against these minorities and a violation of their freedoms.

By engaging with various stakeholders, including experts, legal actors, civil society organizations, and victims of human rights abuses, I try to identify the main challenges and the possible paths toward a more equitable system that is respectful of diversity and individual rights.

What intrigued you when you started your academic journey? What were formative encounters and challenges?

During my studies, I was drawn to exploring individual rights within different legal and cultural frameworks. I was particularly intrigued by the tension between systems, such as classical Islamic law, which often prioritize the collective community and its ethos, and classical liberalism with its focus on the individual. The Arab Spring marked a pivotal moment in this exploration. Witnessing the tumultuous strugglees between various worldviews and ideologies during that time was profoundly impactful. An important formative period was my field research in Tunisia in 2016, during my PhD studies. The country, with its nascent democracy, provided a fertile ground for observing these dynamics firsthand, and I was struck by the resilience and determination of its vibrant civil society in advocating for greater freedoms and social justice, within a changing landscape.

How does your work relate to imaginations of future and how does it deal with questions of disparities?

My research highlights the existence of disparities faced by legal minorities who are subjected to discrimination from various perspectives. By documenting these inequities, my project aims to raise awareness of the challenges these groups encounter in their daily lives, but also proposes possible pathways towards change, thus envisioning a more equitable future where the rights and freedoms of all individuals are respected.

What is the role of humanities and social sciences in times of upheaval? And what may be the task and the public of a scholar?

Academic scholars in social sciences can play a relevant role in society, provided that they do not seclude themselves and their research in an ivory tower, but rather find effective ways to transfer their knowledge to the general public. By doing so, they can attempt to shape change. From this perspective, I admire many Tunisian academics who, even in these times of increasing autocratization and security concerns for critical voices in the country, continue to be actively involved in promoting human rights through the media, NGOs, public conferences and other fora – even when this puts their own safety at risk.

Can you recommend a book, text, film, or exhibition that effectively addresses questions and imaginations of the future while dealing with inequalities in interesting ways?

Laïcité, Inch’Allah!, by Nadia El Fani, is emblematic for both its content and the disputes connected to its reception. Filmed right before and after the Jasmine Revolution, the movie shows the contrasts between a part of Tunisian society that aspires to a secular state, and those sectors of society and of the establishment that remain profoundly religious. It thus raises the question of whether the revolution will lead to more freedom or to a path of religious fundamentalism. Initially titled Ni Allah ni maître, it had to be renamed due to strong controversy, and its screening met with violent reactions from Islamists. El Fani herself was subjected to judicial investigation for having explicitly declaring her atheism.

Another relevant documentary related to my research is Au pays de la démocratie naissante. Made by the pro-LGBT association Shams, it collects real-life testimonies of LGBT people who have been victims of judicial suits, homophobic aggressions, or family rejection.

Citation: Freedom of Conscience and LGBT Rights in Tunisia and Morocco: The Spring is Yet to Come – 5in10 with Tommaso Virgili, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 30.05.2024,

Diesen Blogbeitrag zitieren
Forum Transregionale Studien (2024, 30. Mai). Freedom of Conscience and LGBT Rights in Tunisia and Morocco: The Spring is Yet to Come – 5in10 with Tommaso Virgili. TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research. Abgerufen am 20. Juni 2024, von

Forum Transregionale Studien

The Berlin-based Forum Transregionale Studien promotes the internationalization of research in the humanities and social sciences. It provides scope for collaboration among researchers with different regional and disciplinary perspectives and appoints researchers from all over the world as Fellows. More...

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