Tunisian Salafists storm female stu­dent hos­tel to stop danc­ing

Hard­line Islamists threw stones and bot­tles at young women in a stu­dent hos­tel in Tunis to stop them stag­ing a per­for­mance of dance and music, wit­nesses said on Thurs­day, in another blow to sec­u­lar free­doms in the coun­try that spawned the Arab Spring.

Since sec­u­lar dic­ta­tor Zine al-​Abidine Ben Ali fell two years ago in the first of mul­ti­ple revolts across the Arab world, mod­er­ate Islamists have won elec­tion and rad­i­cal Mus­lims have tar­geted sym­bols of a hith­erto mainly sec­u­lar society.


Female uni­ver­sity stu­dents housed at the Bardo dis­trict hos­tel in the cap­i­tal were just start­ing a weekly show of dance and music on Wednes­day evening when dozens of hard­line Salafists broke into the premises after scal­ing its walls, wit­nesses said.

“They smashed win­dows on our build­ing and threw stones and bot­tles at the stu­dents, stop­ping the per­for­mance,” said Rim Nsairi, one of the stu­dents, who are aged 19 to 24.

The dis­tur­bance lasted almost an hour before the assailants fled. There were no seri­ous injuries and no arrests.

“This is unac­cept­able … The police were present and did not move. It just raises anger and fear,” said Ameni, another stu­dent who did not want her last name used. The Inte­rior Min­istry, which runs the police, had no imme­di­ate comment.

Hos­tel admin­is­tra­tor Raja Mady­ouni said the uni­ver­sity had now tight­ened secu­rity. Salafists had pre­vi­ously threat­ened female stu­dents because of their West­ern dress and in some cases smok­ing and rela­tions with young men, accord­ing to Madyouni.

It was the lat­est in a spate of Salafist assaults in the North African state, long among the most sec­u­lar in the Arab world, over the past year.

Last week, Islamists burst into a sec­ondary school and assaulted its prin­ci­pal after he barred entry to a teenage girl wear­ing an Islamic face veil. Police fired at Islamists, killing one, after their sta­tion came under attack in a south­ern town.

Tunisian police blamed Salafists for the assas­si­na­tion of sec­u­lar oppo­si­tion politi­cian Chokri Belaid in Feb­ru­ary, which pro­voked the biggest street protests in Tunisia since the over­throw of Ben Ali in Jan­u­ary 2011.

Salafists have also attacked wine sell­ers in sev­eral Tunisian cities, prompt­ing sec­u­lar­ists to accuse them of hav­ing formed a reli­gious police and threat­en­ing the state.

Salafists inter­vened to scut­tle the stag­ing of sev­eral con­certs and plays in sev­eral cities last year, declar­ing that they vio­lated Islamic prin­ci­ples. Last Sep­tem­ber, hard­line Islamists ran­sacked the U.S. Embassy in Tunis dur­ing world­wide Mus­lim protests over an anti-​Islam video posted on the Internet.

In another sign of grow­ing Islamist-​secularist fric­tion, Habib Kozd­hogli, head of the arts fac­ulty at Tunis uni­ver­sity, is go on trial on May 2 charged with slap­ping a veiled stu­dent who insisted on enter­ing a class last year.

Mod­er­ate Ennahda Islamists who won a free elec­tion now head a coali­tion gov­ern­ment in Tunis. But Salafists are press­ing for Islam to be made the law of the land and sec­u­lar­ists say Ennahda is doing lit­tle to safe­guard indi­vid­ual and women’s rights.

Source: Reuters

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