Magharebia (Washington DC)

Tunisia: Insecurity Threatens Tunisian Culture

Terrorism is taking a toll on Tunisian arts and culture. The popular Carthage Theatre Days is just the latest entertainment event to pay the price for the country's security concerns.

"The atmosphere this year is unusual. There are fears of Salafists and terrorist operations, and this is evident from the heavy security presence," student Zied ben Ahmed told Magharebia.

Heavy security tainted the biennial festival that ended on Saturday (November 30th), Tunisian actor and playwright Mohammed Ali Damek agreed.

"All spectators were subjected to individual searches," he noted.

Security controls even slowed the official opening of the eight-day event.

Carthage Theatre Days director Wehid Saafi confirmed the delay, saying that security concerns had prompted authorities to install metal detectors at the theatre entrance.

Shows preceding the opening curtain also started unusually early - at three o'clock in the afternoon - due to fears that evening events could not be controlled, security sources said.

Even the opening performance reflected the growing unease in the country.

The festival kicked off with "Tsunami", by Tunisian director Fadhel Jaibi. The play addresses the growing salafist threat in Tunisia.

According to Jaibi, takfirist groups will control Tunisia by the end of 2015 and establish an Islamic emirate.

The play has been met with controversy since its debut last summer during the Carthage International Festival. It has been criticised for being too didactic about the political crisis in the country.

"I did not recognise Fadhel Jaibi in this show. It was cold and scary and even the audience did not applaud much at the end," said art student Houda Ben Omar. Others saw the play as a timely commentary on Tunisia's political unrest.

"I think that 'Tsunami' is worth seeing and draws its beauty from its straightforwardness," young writer and translator Walid Souleiman said.

The producers may have deemed that the current Tunisian experience demanded "a more direct discourse", he added.

He was also unfazed by the metal detectors and heavy security personnel presence at the theatre festival.

"Barriers and security measures are normal, in view of the unusual circumstances the country is going through," Souleiman told Magharebia.

Other featured plays included "Klem Ellil" by Taoufik Jabali, "Skaken Fidjaj" by Raja Ben Ammar and Moncef Sayem, and "Gaylan" by Ezzeddine Guennoun.

Theatrical troupes and playwrights from Algeria, Libya, Morocco and nearly a dozen Arab countries participated in the event.

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