Tunisia leaders concerned over secular-Islamist battle
TUNIS - Tunisian president's office has warned of attempts to sow division inside the country, after a series of incidents that highlight the growing tension between advocates of Islamist and secular values.
In a statement issued Sunday, the president's office expressed concern over the profanation of mosques in the capital Tunis and in Ben Guerdane, to the south.
But it was equally concerned about the actions of radical Islamist activists.
The country's left-leaning opposition Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) expressed similar concerns Sunday at what it said was an attempt to create discord and conflict inside the country.
And in recent comments Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali spoke in terms of the conflict between reactionaries and modernists.
President Moncef Marzouki had followed with "consternation" and concern "The repeated vilations of the sacred and of symbols of unity and national identity," said Sunday statement from his spokesman.
On Thursday, eggs were thrown at the walls of mosques at Ben Guerdane, which lies near the border with Libya. Inside the mosques, copies of the Koran were found torn up.
In Tunis, vandals drew stars of David, a Jewish symbol, on the walls of the El Fath mosque.
The mosque is often the starting point for demonstrations by the ultra-conservative Salafist community after Friday prayers.
But the presidential statement also referred to an incident staged by a Salafist activist at Manouba University, about 25 kilometres (15 miles) from Tunis, which created a scandal earlier this month.
On that occasion the activist had tried to replace the national flag, flying over the roof of the arts and humanities faculty building, with the black flag of Islam.
That action was part of a long-running dispute over the university's decision to ban women from wearing the full-face niqab veil on campus.
"These acts aim at dividing and opposing the people on questions such as identity, the sanctity of the national flag and the untouchable character of sacred symbols," the presidential statement said.
Tunisia's centre-left opposition Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) also condemned the profanation of holy sites, in a statement Sunday.
It described the vandalism as "a desperate attempt to instill sedition in the national community."
The coordinated nature of such attacks in several parts of the country "reflects a strategy of certain movements to sow discord between Tunisians and drag them into the territory of hatred and conflict," they added.
These latest developments come against a background of growing tension between Islamist and secular values inside Tunisia.
Tunisia's moderate Islamist leaders, who took power following last year's overthrow of strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after a popular uprising, are under pressure from a radical Muslim fringe.
Prime Minister Jebali acknowledged the tension during a visit to Germany last week.
"The Tunisian revolution is now at a crossroads," he said Wednesday.
"Tunisia's biggest danger is the conflict between reactionaries and modernists," he added.
"The worst is to believe that freedom and democracy are not compatible with Islam."
Tunisia adopted a provisional constitution in December and is currently drafting a new one which is due to be completed around the middle of next year.
On Friday, several thousand men and women demonstrated outside the Tunisian parliament to demand the inclusion of Islamic law in the north African country's future constitution.
Several women sported the niqab.
The Salafists have also mounted protests against private television station Nessma, because it showed the Franco-Iranian film "Persepolis".
They say it is blasphemous because it showed an image of God, whose representation is banned in Islam.
The station's director is currently defending himself against a charge of "insulting sacred values".