Salafists attack Tunisia's stage actors

Yasser Seddiq, Saturday 31 Mar 2012

Tunisia's Salafists attack artists and smash instruments on World Theatre Day; violence reminds many of previous attacks on women and tourists after Ben Ali's fall in 2011

Tunisian Salafists shout slogans outside the courthouse in Tunis. (AFP: file photo)

A group of Salafists and their supporters attacked a crowd of stage actors who gathered at Habib Bourguiba Avenue, in front of the Municipal Theatre in the Tunisian capital, to celebrate the World Theatre Day, according to Tunisia's media.

In a statement, Tunisia's artists said the Salafists smashed instruments, kept artists away, occupied the location and attacked a number of participants in the event.

Allegedly, security men at the event initially did nothing, and when they acted they only moved the artists inside the Municipal Theatre.

A statement from artists condemned both the interior and culture ministries for failing to protect the actors from Salafist violence. Tunisia's stage actors called on political parties, especially those in the government coalition, and NGO's to condemn the violent campaign by Salafists against freedom of speech in the north African country.

Many scholars refuse to label the Islamist groups in question as "Salafists" in reference to the Salafist movement that emerged in the late 19th century and early 20th century that was a part of the enlightenment and reform movement that was grounded in peaceful change. Today's Salafists, unlike their predecessors, pursue women in the streets to force them to wear the hijab or niqab and raid bookshops, tearing books and threaten their owners.

These so-called "Salafists,'' according to Abdulraouf Al-Maliki, a Tunisian writer, invaded resorts last summer to expel women and force them to wear traditional jalabiyas, while one of the demonstrations by Salafists in the city of Sousse, a main resort in the country, demanded the expulsion of tourists there.

Following the ouster of dictator Zein El-Abidine Ben Ali, who was toppled in 2011 in a popular uprising that ignited the Arab Spring revolutions, Salafists in Tunisia have grown in strength and number.

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