Gathering of Salafists in Kairouan on May 20.
Despite the local population’s resistance, Salafist Islamists have succeeded in forcefully shutting down nearly every business that sells alcohol in the southern Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, best known for being the location of the early protests that sparked the Arab Spring.
According to some of our Observers, armed Salafists – extremist Sunni Muslims who aim to impose Sharia law – stormed the city’s bars and cafés and forced them to shut down on May 18. In retaliation, some bar owners and patrons vandalized a local mosque.
Local authorities did not explicitly condemn the forced shutdown, and the regional governor has since proposed that the bars located in the city centre be moved to the industrial part of town. However, Tunisia’s justice minister, Nourredine B’hiri, said that the perpetrators of these acts of violence will be “severely punished.”
On May 20, just after the incidents in Sidi Bouzid, several thousand members of the radical Ansar al-Charia movement gathered from around the country in the famous mosque of Kairouan, one hundred kilometres away. The gathering was as much a show of strength (the men wore military garb) as a religious meeting.
Hundreds of Salafists gathered in the Kairouan mosque last Sunday.
A few days earlier, the Tunisian government, led by the Islamist party Ennahda, had for the first time authorized the creation of a Salafist political party, the “Reform Front.” Tunisia is home to approximately 10 to 12 thousand Salafists, who are divided into several sub-groups of varying degrees of radicalism.