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An ugly food fight in Tunisia

An ugly food fight in Tunisia

A fight between hardline Salafists at a Tunisian mosque on Tuesday was hardly big news. A brief story by AFP on the incident was buried by reports from Aleppo and coverage of the attack in Sinai. However, the clash between rival Islamists serves as a reflection of the current state of affairs in the country that sparked the Arab Spring.

Apparently, followers of a Salafist scholar angered a group of "jihadists" by beginning iftar, the meal that breaks Ramadan fasting, shortly before the call to prayer. The argument quickly degenerated into a knife fight, and tear gas was even used at one point.

This ugly little brawl would be unremarkable, except that radical Salafists are reportedly becoming quite bold in Tunisia these days. On Sunday, Abdelfattah Mourou, a member of Tunisia’s more moderate ruling Ennahada party, was violently attacked during a conference on tolerance and Islam by another Salafist.

In June, Salafists actually rioted over an art exhibition that spelled out the name of God in insects, attacking police stations and the offices of secular parties with rocks and homemade bombs. Reuters reported in May that alcohol venders in the town of Sidi Bouzid, where Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire and the Arab Spring in motion, had repeatedly been attacked by radical Islamists.

Manouba University, a Tunisian college, was also the focus of much controversy in July over a rule forbidding female students to wear a face veil during exams.

Although it’s frequently at odds with the ultraconservative Salafists, even the supposedly moderate Ennahada party is considering a bill that would criminalize blasphemy. It defines this as "insults, profanity, derision and representation of Allah and Mohammed."