On 12 June protesters blocked streets and set tyres alight in the Ettadamen and Sidi Hussein districts in Tunisia. Some hurled petrol bombs at police in some of the worst confrontations since last year's revolt ousted former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. The Tunisian government has imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in eight areas of the country, including the capital, after rioting blamed on ultra-conservative Salafi Muslims left at least 65 police officers injured.
The Salafi Muslims were angered by an art exhibition which they described as a provocation and an insult against Islam. The exhibition showed a piece which spelt out the name of God using insects. The exhibition was raided by the protestors, leaving little untainted. “Since the fall of Ben Ali, the infidels have not stopped mocking our religion, and it’s becoming more frequent every day,” said Ayoub, who is considered as a radical Imam. “What has added fuel to the flames is the silence of the government which has taken no decision."
In a statement released before the protests, Ennahda, the moderate Islamist party and largest party in Tunisia, condemned what it described as provocations and insults against religion but urged its supporters to respond peacefully. The violence puts Ennahda in a difficult position. Islamists did not play a major role in the revolution, but the struggle over the role of Islam in government and society has since emerged as the most divisive issue in Tunisian politics. Ennahda, which leads the government in coalition with two secular groups, has said it will not seek to impose sharia law in the new constitution that is currently being drafted.
Salafis, who follow a puritanical interpretation of Islam, want a broader role for religion in the new Tunisia. Alarming secular elites fear they will seek to impose their views and undermine democracy. Salafis attacked bars and shops selling alcohol in at least two provincial towns last month, clashing with locals and police and prompting the justice minister, a member of Ennahda, to promise that perpetrators would be punished.
Others suspected a plot by Ben Ali sympathizers to destabilize the country and reclaim power. “The fact that the violence erupted in several places at the same time makes us think that it was organized,” it was quoted in local media. Several people arrested said they “were paid by Salafists to carry out the acts of destruction,” security sources said.
Sources: AlJazeera, Alarabiya, The Guardian
Picture: Flickr Amine Ghrabi