Tunis — Tunisian university students are rejecting an attempt by Islamist hardliners to impose their radical agenda.
Fighting erupted Monday (November 12th) in Monastir between salafists and members of the General Union of Tunisian Students (UGET).
The clashes broke out when Islamist hardliners surrounded the Monastir University canteen to demand separate dining rooms for female and male students.
"There were skirmishes between two groups of students who differ in terms of ideological orientations," explained Hammadi Essafi, the university restaurant manager in Skanes. "We are still negotiating with both groups to resolve the problem."
According to a security report, the violence was triggered when the salafists observed a female student having lunch with a male peer.
"The violence that ensued between the two groups necessitated the intervention of the security forces to break it up," the campus police report said.
The incident sparked chaos and panic, but students eventually forced the salafists to back off.
The salafists vowed to continue their mission toward gender segregation and the implementation of Islamic law in all Tunisian universities.
"Gender segregation at the University of Monastir restaurant became a revolutionary and urgent demand and a priority for the salafists!" journalist Makki Helal said. "I cannot believe those who say that the salafists are just scarecrows and that their danger is not real."
Helal added, "They are destroying the country and the achievements of the state since independence and after!"
For journalist Samir Jaray, the salafists are "far from reality".
"They want to impose their illusions and their backward understanding of religion to pull Tunisia back, like some countries that have been devastated by extremists," Jaray told Magharebia.
"You cannot even have a discussion with some of them; logic, reason, rights and freedoms do not work with them. They are in a metaphysical trance, thinking that they represent God on earth," he added.
Mouna Tounsi, a student, told Magharebia that "the government should take the necessary measures against those outlaws and hardliners".
The Islamist violence in Monastir came a week after roughly 2,000 salafists gathered in the Tunis neighbourhood of Cite Ettadhamen to protest recent arrests, including that of Bilel Chaouachi.
Participants at the November 6th rally claimed that some 900 hardliners had been detained since January 2011.
Islamic affairs expert Slaheddine Jourchi said that Ennahda has tried to contain the growing salafist movement to avoid creating a political opponent.
"However, there has always been a problem with jihadist salafism, especially after the US embassy events, Douar Hicher and then the attack on a security commander," he said.
"The divide between the ruling Ennahda party and salafists has become even deeper," Jourchi added.
The analyst noted that salafist sheikhs issued "calls for calm and avoiding violence, in the face of Interior Minister Ali Larayedh's sharp press statements confirming that his ministry wouldn't be lenient with extremist groups".
Mourad Gmiza, a political activist, told Magharebia that the protestors in Cite Ettadhamen were takfirists.
"You can't receive any messages of reassurance from those who accuse you of kufr and place you in the category of enemies of God, His Prophet and believers", he said.
But their numbers will continue to increase, Gmiza warned, "as long as the state is lenient with them and believes their tactical retreats, and as long as moderate speech is absent in the media and places of worship".