The growing voices of extremism and Salafism in Tunisia
Thousands of hardcore Muslims chant against Jews. Youths rampage through cities at night in protest of "blasphemous” art. A sit-in by religious students degenerates into fist fights and the desecration of Tunisia’s flag.
In the birthplace of the Arab Spring, the transition from dictatorship to democracy has been mostly smoother than in neighboring countries, with no power-hungry military or armed militias to stifle the process. But as a moderate Islamist party rules with the help of secular forces, an unexpected threat has emerged: the increasing boldness of ultraconservative Muslims known loosely as Salafis, who want to turn this North African country of 10 million into a strict Islamic state.
Tunisia’s hardcore Salafis are estimated to number only in the tens of thousands. But their organized and frequent protests against perceived insults to Islam, especially by artists, have rocked the country and succeeded in mobilizing disaffected and angry youth much more effectively than secular opposition parties.