Tunisian Salafists attack alcohol sellers in capital

Reuters , Monday 29 Oct 2012

A group of Tunisia Salafist Muslims attack alcohol vendors in one of the most secular Arab states

Islamist Ennahda movement leader Rachid Ghannouchi (C) arrives with his daughter Soumaya (L) for prayers on the first day of Eid al-Adha, at the Mellasine Stadium in Tunis October 26, 2012 (Photo: Reuters)

Clashes broke out between alcohol sellers and hardline Salafist Muslims in the Tunisian capital, a security official said on Sunday, wounding a police commander in the latest illustration of religious tensions in the home of the Arab Spring.

Tunisia, whose authoritarian president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was overthrown by a popular uprising last year, now has an elected Islamist-led government.

The struggle over the role of religion in government and society has since emerged as the most divisive issue in the North African country, which for decades was considered one of the most secular countries in the Arab world.

On Saturday night, a group of hardline Salafist Muslims attacked alcohol vendors in their small shops, a security official said. Police intervened to stop the violence.

"Commander Wissam Ben Sliman was injured last night in clashes after Salafis attacked alcohol sellers in the Dawar Hicher [area]," Sami Gnaoui, a member of the National Guard [police] syndicate said. "They attacked him with a knife in the neck. He is now in hospital in critical condition."

Last month, dozens of Salafist Muslims attacked a hotel in Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of Tunisia's revolution, because it was serving alcohol. They destroyed furniture and smashed bottles of alcohol.

Gnaoui said it was the second time Salafists had attacked national security personnel in the Dawar Hicher neighbourhood, a poor area on the outskirts of Tunis.

He said a mosque in the area, called Nour Mosque had become "like a military base where Salafists are hiding Molotov cocktails, knives and sticks." Interior ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.

Tension has been growing between Islamists and secularists since the Islamist Ennahda Movement won an election last year.

Ennahda, a moderate Islamic groupcoming under the leadership of Rachid Ghannouchi, formed a coalition with two non-religious parties and has promised not to ban alcohol, impose the veil or use sharia [Islamic law] as the basis of Tunisian law.

It is under pressure from both hardline Salafi Muslims calling for the introduction of Islamic law and secular opposition parties determined to prevent this.

The US-based Human Rights Watch said this month Tunisia was failing to crack down on Islamist violence against advocates of secularism, including journalists and artists.

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