Thousands protest extremism in Tunis

Thousands protest extremism in Tunis

TUNIS - The Associated Press
Thousands protest extremism in Tunis

Tunisian people shout slogans and wave flags during a demonstration in Tunis on Jan 28 to ‘defend freedom’ following a series of incidents involving radicals. AFP photo

More than 8,000 Tunisians marched Jan. 28 through the capital denouncing violence committed by ultraconservative Islamist groups in recent months.

Organized by two leftist opposition parties, the demonstration was one of the largest marches in the country since a moderate Islamist party swept elections last year. Not far away, several hundred Islamists held a counter-protest. “Make a common front against fanaticism,” read one of the posters carried by demonstrators in the main rally, many of whom were women. “We got rid of totalitarianism, and we don’t want it back,” read another banner.

‘Tolerant and pluralistic Tunisia
Tunisia’s long-oppressed moderate Islamist party, Ennahda, won October’s elections and formed a government with two secular parties. Ennahda has taken pains to calm the fears of Tunisia’s secular elite that it would turn the country into an Islamic state. The party has been repeatedly embarrassed by the actions of the Salafists, who appear to be justifying the warnings of secular parties such as the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) that radical Islamists are trying to change the country.

PDP leader Maya Jribi attended the demonstration and called for a “tolerant and pluralistic Tunisia where the citizens are respected in face of the death threats we hear these days.” Critics of the government say it is not doing enough in the face of the Salafi actions, which included occupying a university and preventing students from taking exams because of the institution’s policy against the religious face veil.

The incident that appeared to have really galvanized people was an attack on secular intellectual Hamadi Rendissi and newspaper editor Zied Krichen by Salafis outside a courthouse today. The two men were attending a civil trial against a television station owner for airing the award-winning Iranian animated film Persepolis on charges he “violated sacred values.”