Tunisian Salafis riot over insect artwork that spells 'Allah'

Jun 14, 2012

Spring of Arts exhibition prompts violent protests from Islamists

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THOUSANDS of Salafi Islamists have rampaged through parts of Tunis in protest at an art exhibition they say insults Muslims.

Reuters reports that protesters hurled rocks and petrol bombs at police stations and the offices of secular parties in some of the worst clashes since last year's overthrow of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali which initiated the wave of uprisings which has come to be known as the Arab Spring.

Stone-throwing youths stopped trams and demonstrators entered mosques with loudspeakers to call on Tunisians to defend Islam. The picture above, taken yesterday, shows local residents cleaning up.

The protests, which went on throughout Tuesday evening, involved mostly Salafis, who follow a strict interpretation of Islam. They are upset at a Spring of Arts exhibition in an upmarket suburb of Tunis.

The work that seems to have been most provocative spelt out the name of Allah using insects. Press TV reports another work included images of bearded men who are represented as fanatics in front of scenes of stoned women.

Groups of Salafis forced their way into the exhibition at Ebdeliya Art Gallery and defaced works they deemed offensive.
Al Jazeera reports officials from the Islamist-led government condemned the artworks which insulted and provoked Muslims, but said the violent protests were unjustified and undermined the country’s much-needed economic recovery.

A night-time curfew was imposed on the capital and seven other areas after Interior Minister Ali Larayedh told parliament he expected the riots to continue in the coming days.

The clashes are just the latest in a series of recent flare-ups involving Salafis who want a greater role for Islam in Tunisian society. Last month, Salafis attacked bars and shops selling alcohol in at least two provincial towns.

The unrest puts the ruling moderate Islamist party Ennahda in a difficult position as it struggles to satisfy conflicting demands. Secular elites have growing concerns that the violence will curb freedoms and undermine the nascent democracy.

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