Thousands in Tunisia protest against religious fundamentalism

AFP , Thursday 1 Dec 2011

3,000 Tunisians assemble outside the Bardo Palace to protest against Islamist university students who call for female students to wear head scarves and gender segregation in classes

Salafist and secular students clash at the Humanities and Literature Faculty in Manouba University, near Tunis 29 November, 2011. (Photo: Reuters)

Thousands of demonstrators gathered outside Tunisia's constituent assembly Thursday to protest against corruption, unemployment and religious fundamentalists.

According to AFP estimates, between 2,000 and 3,000 students, teachers, miners and others assembled outside the Bardo Palace, where Tunisian lawmakers are gathering to draft a new constitution.

The protest comes partly in response to ongoing demonstrations at a university outside the capital Tunis, where Islamists have been calling for women students to wear head scarves and gender segregation in classes.

University professors at the protest chanted "No to extremism" and "Hands off the teachers", among other slogans.

Students held placards protesting headscarves, known locally as niqabs.

"Neither mini-skirts nor niqabs" and "If you want to wear the niqab, do it at home", were among the messages spotted.

Islamism is a political movement incorporating religious beliefs into governance. Leaders from moderate Islamist parties have been winning large blocs of votes in elections after the fall of dictators in the Arab Spring revolts.

In Tunisia, the Islamist Ennaahda Party won the most votes in the 23 October elections, the country's first since the revolution that ousted a staunchly secular regime along with president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in January.

Hardline Islamists, known as Salafists, have become more assertive in recent weeks.

Also at Thursday's demonstration were miners who pitched tents and said they would stay until their demands are met. They are angered over what they say were rigged hiring practices at a mining recruitment firm.

"We didn't make a revolution for that," communist leader Hama Hammami said. "People are hungry and corruption is rampant."

Other demonstrators yelled at the palace, saying politics should not be held behind closed doors.

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