BEIRUT

Middle East

Islamists attack Tunisia school over ban

Demonstrators wave flags and shout slogans as they gather on the occasion of the Feast of the Martyrs at Avenue Habib Bourguiba in Tunis, April 9, 2013. (REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi)

TUNIS: Radical Muslims burst into a Tunisian school Wednesday and assaulted its chief after he barred entry to a teenage girl wearing a niqab, teachers said, an incident that underlined rising Islamist-secularist tensions.

Since dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was toppled, Tunisia has seen mounting strife between secularists who long held power and Islamists whose influence is increasing.

Moderate Ennahda Islamists who won a free election now head the Tunis government. But hard-line Salafists are pushing for Islam to be made the law of the land, raising secularist fears for a loss of individual freedoms, women’s rights and democracy.

Murad Ben Hamouda of the teachers’ union at Manzel Bouzelfa secondary school said Salafists stormed into the compound, smashed a few cars and “tried to kill the director for refusing the entry of a schoolgirl dressed in niqab into the classroom.”

School superintendent Abdelwahed Sentati was beaten with sticks and stones, suffering several broken bones, Hamouda said, and the assailants then fled. There have been no arrests, and Interior Ministry police had no immediate comment.

How many Salafists were involved in the attack was not immediately clear. But teachers said dozens of radicals lingered on the premises afterward, chanting anti-secular slogans.

Khalifa Dhif, another teacher, said classes at the school and others in Manzel Bouzelfa had been suspended in protest at the assault and the union was considering a strike.

After fierce debate, the Education Ministry decided last year to preserve a classroom ban on women wearing the face veil of strict Muslims.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 11, 2013, on page 9.

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