“The police knew very well that they were going to attack us”
They didn’t come to stop the show; they came to beat us up. Luckily, they came in the early evening, so there weren’t too many people yet – otherwise it would have been a bloodbath. When I saw them beat up my colleague Mongi Tayachi, I thought they were going to kill him. He is, in fact, still in the hospital. I recognised two of the perpetrators. They are well-known Salafists in Bizerte.Two of the Salafists grabbed my arms while a third sprayed pepper spray in my face. Luckily, one of my attackers was hit and had to let go of my arm. This gave me an opportunity to escape.The police took an hour to intervene. But they knew very well what was going to happen. Two days before the attack, Salafists were already ripping down our posters in the street. A little while before the attack, a colleague told me he saw about twenty bearded men sitting in the back of a large truck that was heading toward Bizerte. The police saw them go by and didn’t lift a finger. And Bizerte is a small city, where everyone knows everything.I hold the Ministry of Interior and the ruling Ennahda party responsible for allowing the Salafists to behave this way. Their attitude is inexplicable and inexcusable.
“I am not in any way criticizing religion; I am only talking about Tunisian religious practices. That’s very different”
I didn’t get too close to the theatre because I did not want the situation to escalate. There is a police station close to the theatre. Security forces were there, but they didn’t intervene. They told me they had not received any orders to intervene.Salafists accuse me of being blasphemous, but they haven’t even seen my show. For the last couple days, the imam of the city, in his preaching, kept calling for the boycott of my show. In fact, I am not in any way criticising religion; I am only talking about Tunisian religious practices. That’s very different.I don’t really hold it against the extremists, or against the police forces. I do blame the Interior Minister, who said he would be boycotting me. Already, two weeks ago, his ministry had instructed the police not to provide any security services when I appeared at a festival in Bizerte. I performed in front of a large audience - 9,000 strong – but thankfully, everything went well. [The spokesperson for the national security bureau, Mohammed Ali El Aroui, declared in July that the security forces would not provide security for any shows featuring Abdelli because he “crossed the line of what is acceptable when he denigrated police officers in a vulgar and humiliating way”].In my shows, I criticise everybody, including the police. But I don’t particularly single them out. I have nothing against them. I’m just doing my job as a comedian.The government is trying to intimidate me. We live in a little dictatorship that, like so many other dictatorships, does not like anyone tarnishing its image and does not appreciate any kind of critical thinking from its population.”