Tunisia Salafists halt Iranian concert at Sufi festival

TUNIS: Hard-line Islamists have prevented an Iranian group from performing at a Sufi festival in Kairouan, south of Tunis, Tunisian media reported Thursday, deeming their Shiite chanting violated sacred values.

It was the second time in two days that radical Muslims have disrupted cultural performances in Tunisia.

“When an Iranian group were due to appear on stage, they were blocked by a group of protesters apparently belonging to the Salafist movement,” reported private radio station Shems FM, quoting a journalist at the festival.

“One of the protesters explained that a petition circulating on the Internet for several days, asked the Iranian singers not to perform,” it said.

“To do so amounted to an attack on the sacred from a Sunni point of view.”

Culture Ministry spokesman Samir Messaoudi confirmed that a group of Salafists prevented the group from performing at the Sufi festival in Kairouan, 160 kilometers from the capital.

He contends the authorities had intervened and sent the protesters away and that the group then refused to appear, “saying that they were not psychologically ready to sing.”

Wednesday’s protest followed a similar confrontation Tuesday in a town north of the capital, where Salafists blocked a stand-up show by a well-known Tunisian comedian who they accused of offending Islam.

Tunisia’s hard-line Islamists have grown more confident since the mass uprising that toppled former dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali last year.

In mid-June, suspected Salafists entered a gallery in Tunis and destroyed some works of art they considered offensive, triggering riots that left one person dead and more than 100 injured.

Ennahda, the moderate Islamist party that heads Tunisia’s ruling coalition, has struggled to clarify its line on the Salafists, with recent violence sparking criticism that it has done too little to stop. NGOs have criticised a bill that Ennahda filed in parliament earlier this month that could see anyone convicted of violating sacred values jailed for up to two years.

Two Tunisians were convicted in June on charges of attacking morals, after posting caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed on Facebook.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 17, 2012, on page 16.




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