After witnessing the disturbing protest on Friday, March 2, by the so-called “salafists” in front of the U.S embassy , I decided this would be a good time to take a step back…
Let’s cover the basics
Expats love to travel. They love to experience new cultures and discover new worlds. However, they’re usually not interested in the everyday politics of the country they live in. In a country like Tunisia, with few English speaking media outlets, this can be a liability. It is primarily in response to this reality that we started the Tunisia Security Update.
After the protest at the embassy I heard many expats asking basic yet important questions about this small yet vocal minority.
What’s a Salafi? First let’s understand that labels are convenient to understand vast subjects, but they’re not always necessarily accurate. After considering various definitions I think this one answers the question: “A Salafi is a Muslim who emphasises the earliest Muslims, as model examples of Islamic practice.” We could say that they are traditionalist, neo-conservative, literalist, etc.
Who are the Salafists in Tunisia? There’s a very informative article entitled “Salafists in Tunisia” by the Stonegate Insutite. In it they point out that it is difficult to make an “evaluation about their number but they have become numerous and visible” (i.e. US Embassy Protest). They also go on to state that Salafists are not interested in a democratic model and a modern state, but rather they wish to “impose social norms which are from twelve to fifteen centuries old.”
Do they present a security threat? Well this is the question that’s unfolding. Authorities have been sending out mixed signals. On the one hand, we saw the strong actions taking by security forces which eventually led to the sizing of large amounts of arms and ammunition during the Bir Ali operation. But on the other hand we also read statements such as “President Moncef Marzouki supports the recognition of Salafi parties”.
There are many good articles online about the Salafists and their developing role within the new geopolitical stage, but still many questions remain.
I choose to title this posting ‘Salafists Fridays’ because we’ve had some sort of ‘Salafists Action’ (protest, rally, etc.) 3 weeks in a row. Interestingly enough one of the leading Islamist groups, Hizb Ettahrir, is hosting a conference entitled: “Caliphate, a bright example for the rights and political role of women.” on March 10th 2012 in the Carthago Hotel. Supporters of this neo-conservative group from all over the world will make their way here to meet and discuss many topics.
You could expect to see a higher security presence around the Carthago Hotel and the greater Northern suburb area this weekend.