“The police and army were present, but they did not intervene”
Last Friday evening, the owner of a bar in the city centre was about to open his establishment when Salafists arrived and ordered him not to. They argued that the sale of alcohol led to noise at night, which disturbed nearby residents. The bar owner was frightened and agreed to keep his bar shut. [Other eyewitness accounts say the Salafists were armed with swords and firearms].Friday and Saturday after the evening prayer, owners of bars and cafés and their patrons headed to the Ar Rahma mosque, a main meeting spot for Salafists, to take revenge. They attacked Salafists with sticks; some also carried guns and shot live rounds into the air. I went to the mosque later to take photos of the damage. There are bullet holes on the minaret. The police and army were present but they did not interfere – they just closed down the street.Photo by Farouk Smari.Photo by Farouk Smari.Photo by Farouk Smari.“There have always been tensions concerning the sale of alcohol, but never such violence”In retaliation, on Saturday morning, Salafists forcefully shut down every bar in town by threatening the owners. That day, Salafists went as far as setting fire to several trucks full of liquor, and a liquor warehouse on the outskirts of the city. To my knowledge, only four places legally sold alcohol in Sidi Bouzid: two bars, one café and one hotel. The bars and café are now closed, and the hotel remains open but has stopped selling alcohol.This is the first time something like this has happened. There have always been tensions around this question of the sale of alcohol, but never such violence. I deeply regret the situation. All parties involved need to use dialogue, not force; there may need to be some kind of mediation. For now, the violence has died down, but I worry about this tendency in our country to want to take justice in our own hands.
“Salafists are a scarecrow that the government is letting make trouble to instil fear in the population”
I’m very worried. In some ways, Salafists are taking the place of local authorities that have completely given up on protecting the population. So Salafists are stepping in, imposing their rules and instilling fear in the city. It raises the question: where are the public authorities? Neither the army nor the police intervened in this weekend’s events. Why? All we’re asking is for violent acts like these to be prevented, or at least punished.I have the feeling that our country is gradually slipping into anarchy. I can’t help but wonder if all of this isn’t, in a way, orchestrated by the country’s authorities. Salafists are a scarecrow that the government is letting make trouble to instill fear in the population – the same techniques were used when [ousted president] Ben Ali was in power. To me, it’s a sign that the government wants to silence the people and foil the country’s democratic objectives.