Tunisian Salafists attack bar, call drinkers 'infidels'

Ahram Online , Friday 14 Dec 2012

Meat cleaver-wielding Salafists attack hotel bar in Tunisian city of Subaytilah in growing struggle between ultra-conservative Muslims and their more secular-minded compatriots

Relatives and friends carry the body of policeman Anis el-Jlassi during Jlassi's funeral as they proceed to Karma Cemetery in Kairouan December 11, 2012 (Photo: Reuters)

Ultra-conservative Salafist Muslims attacked a hotel in the Tunisian city of Subaytilah on Thursday, police sources and eyewitnesses told AFP.

An estimated 15 Salafists destroyed the hotel's furniture and bar and burned a vehicle parked in front of the building. Bearded men threatened hotel guests with meat cleavers and called them "infidels," eyewitnesses said.

The eyewitnesses could not confirm if there had been any injuries because they had left the area before the police arrived.

The interior ministry has not issued an official statement.

The North African country has witnessed numerous violent incidents linked to hardliners, prompting opposition activists to accuse the Islamist-led coalition government of not doing enough to rein them in. There has been a complex domestic struggle over the role of religion in government and society during the post-revolutionary period.

The bar-related incident in Subaytilah comes after a similar attack on a bar in Sidi Bouzid. Bottles were smashed and customers were chased away with cries of "God is Great" and "drinking is forbidden."

Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of the uprising that toppled former president Ben Ali last year, is a stronghold of the Salafist movement, which has grown increasingly assertive in recent months.

Violence later spread to the capital where there were clashes between alcohol sellers and Salafists, wounding a police commander.

Ennahda, a moderate Islamist group lead by 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 Salafists calling for the introduction of Islamic law and secular opposition parties determined to prevent this.

Ennahda's stance carries weight. Its secretary-general, Hamadi Jebali, is prime minister, and the party controls more than 40 percent of the seats in the constituent assembly. Salafists are not fully represented by any bloc in the assembly, but have stepped up street protests to press for their demands

Secularists fear that Ennahda has been too soft on the Salafists who since the revolution have attacked or threatened theatres, cinemas and journalists, and most recently Tunisia's tiny Jewish community.

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