A group of several thousand Salafists and their supporters demonstrated in downtown Tunis today in support of the Koran, claiming that the Muslim holy book was under threat by more secular elements of Tunisian society. Demonstrators climbed the clock tower of Tunis to fly black caliphate flags from the top of the tower and chanted slogans such as "the people want a new caliphate."
At the same time and on the same street, the Tunisian Association for Drama Arts held a celebration for the upcoming World Day of Theater (usually March 27th) in front of the Municipal Theater. As the Salafist protest came to a close, a number of Salafist demonstrators attacked the Theater celebration.
According to Yassine Ouni, a student from the Higher Institute for Drama, the Ministry of Interior was responsible for the confrontation because they gave permits for both events knowing there would be a conflict. "The Tunisian Association for the Drama Arts event and the Salafist demonstration was held at the same time. We want to hold the Interior Ministry accountable since it gave permission to the two movements on the same day and the Ministry knew there would be tension since Drama is sacred for all artists and religion is sacred for every citizen."
The permit given to the dramatists was supposed to allow them to celebrate theater in the space between the municipal theater and the Africa Hotel while the Salafists had a permit to demonstrate by the Tunis clock tower. While the Salafist organizers agreed to separate the events at first, a group of Salafists later came and damaged equipment, disrupted outdoor performances and threw eggs, empty bottles and sharp objects at those celebrating theater.
Fawzi Guara, one of the demonstrators at the Salafist organized event for supporting the Koran blamed the theater celebration organizers for the confrontation. "Some Tunisians are not respecting our religious sanctity, campaigns against our religion confirm that there are elements here who want to provoke us. They don't respect our views."
Guara admitted that the Tunisian Association for Theater had received permission to hold an event first, but he said the Koran was more important than theater. "We knew they got permission before us, but they should give priority to defending the Koran and our religion. Anarchy can happen at any time, and simply by calling themselves 'Theater of Resistance' they are provoking us, resistance to whom? Did we sell out our country?"
For Guara, his demonstration was necessary because he sees Islam as being under attack. "Today Tunisia is witnessing a historical day. Tunisians went to the street to show their disapproval against the desecration of the Koran in Ben Guerdene, against the six pointed star on the wall of the Al-Fateh Mosque."
He added that opponents of Salafists have been making a big deal out one Salafists' desecration of the Tunisian flag at Mannouba University, just to give them a bad name. "We do love our country and our flag but the priority is for our religion and what is sacred. Islam does not oppose civility. We are here today to express our love for the Koran, for the prophet, for our holy sites. Our slogans are in support of the Koran, defending that which is sacred and rejecting discord and strife between Tunisians," Guara said.
Kouichi Shirayanagi contributed to this report