By Monia Ghanmi
Tunisian artists, intellectuals and activists are speaking out about a spate of salafist attacks across the country.
In one of the latest attacks, poet Mohamed Sghaier Ouled Ahmed was violently assaulted on Saturday (August 25th) after a television appearance in which he criticised salafists in Tunisia.
“I have had my share of the culture that Rachid Ghannouchi said the salafists are promising,” Ould Ahmed reportedly wrote on his Facebook page. “I’m not the first to have been assaulted and will not be the last.”
On August 16th, salafists attacked a cultural festival in Bizerte using swords, wounding four people.
On August 14th, salafists prevented Tunisian actor Lotfi Abdelli from performing his comedy act “100% Halal” at Menzel Bourguiba in Bizerte under the pretext that it included expressions offensive to Islam and because of the actor’s deliberate mocking of religion.
Following the attack, Abdelli confirmed that he received threats of murder and beating, noting that an imam of a mosque in the area incited the people against him and urged them to boycott his play.
A French advisor on a visit to the tourist city of Bizerte wasn’t spared by the salafist wave of violence in the country.
Jamel Gharbi, a Tunisian-born member of Le Mans city council, said that while he was on a tour with his family near the Bizerte port, about 50 people armed with sticks and batons surrounded him and spoke directly to his wife and daughter under the pretext that their clothes were indecent, “although their clothes were not provocative”.
In a statement made to French media, Gharbi said that the salafists pointed out to him that he was in a Muslim country, then rebuked him and beat him with their batons.
After the attack on the Bizerte festival, the Tunisian culture ministry spoke out against the growing wave of violence.
“The Ministry of Culture condemns this dangerous and strange downfall and believes that such incidents don’t only represent an assault on freedom of expression and innovation, but also threaten sectarian tensions strange to our Tunisian society which is known for its moderation and tolerance,” the August 21st statement read.
The Ministry urged all entities “to confront such extremist phenomena” and to “hold the perpetrators accountable and not to be lenient with them”.
Tunisian rights groups have criticised the government’s inefficiency in confronting the salafists’ violence and accused it of being lax in enforcing the law.
“The more lax the authority is in enforcing the law and protecting personal freedoms and rights of citizens and innovators, the greater opportunity it gives to groups and individuals to continue their attempts to impose their views and convictions by force,” Salaheddine Jourchi, a specialist in Islamic movements said.
Meanwhile, the Euro-Mediterranean Observatory for Human Rights (EMOHR) urged Tunisian authorities in a statement August 18th “to take strict legal measures to stop violations by salafist groups” in the country.
In its turn, the Tunisian League for the Defence of Human Rights demanded the administrative and security authorities in the country bear their responsibility in full without any further hesitation in order to contain the salafist violence phenomenon, track down those involved and open an immediate investigation about all entities that may be behind them or colluding with them.
It also stressed the need to enforce the law and to protect the country against the dangers of sliding into a whirlpool of violence that may have fatal consequences.