February 09, 2013
Tunisia's Islamists Rally in Support of Ruling Party
Thousands of Islamists marched in Tunisia's capital Saturday a day after the funeral of secularist politician Chokri Belaid, who was shot dead earlier in the week. The demonstration is the latest signal of deepening divisions in this North African country.
A day after a massive outpouring of grief and anger against religious hardliners in Tunis, supporters of the ruling Islamist Ennahda party staged their own counter-demonstration in the capital Saturday.
Chanting pro-Ennahda slogans, several thousand protesters marched down the tree-lined Habib Bourguiba boulevard. Many were men, but there were also women wearing the body-covering hijab and a few children.
Many carried the white Ennahda flag. Some unfurled banners calling on former colonial power France to butt out of Tunisian affairs.
The slogans appeared to be a response to remarks by a French minister warning of rising "Islamist fascism" in Tunisia following the shooting death of Chokri Belaid - who had been a fierce critic of Ennahda and Islamists.
Many Tunisians blame Ennahda and more hardline Salafists for Belaid's assassination and protestors have attacked the party's offices. Ennahda strongly denies any role in the opposition politician's death. So does demonstrator Fatah Ousleti. He says the Islamists are actually protecting Tunisians from rising insecurity.
"They are usually targeted as people who are criminals but they are not really criminals. For example yesterday, they were protecting people in Tunisia. They were protecting the shops, they were protecting the banks..etc."
Another demonstrator, Nasser Ajmi, said Islamists were pacifists. He said it is important to have both religion and politics in Tunisian life.
Ajmi said Tunisian Islam is modern and moderate. It is not fundamentalist, nor does it follow the path of the Talibans or former al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden.
While Islam is the dominant religion here, it is also deepening divisions in this North African country. More secular Tunisians warn against mounting fundamentalism. Human rights advocates and political activists have pointed to a slew of attacks by hardline Islamists against artists, politicians and secular figures - culminating, they assert, with Belaid's death.