TUNISIA: In come the Islamists, out go the tourists

Tensions have been running high since the revolt in January scrapped a ban on radical Islamists and paved the way for a fundamentalist religious party to come to power at the head of a coalition government. But as the Islamists assume positions of power, the formerly lucrative tourist trade is tanking seriously.

DAILY STAR The latest round of protests was sparked when a group of hardline Islamists occupied a university campus near the capital to demand segregation of sexes in class and the right for women students to wear a full-face veil.

About 3,000 Islamists gathered outside the constitutional assembly in the Bardo district of the Tunis on Saturday, separated by a police cordon from a counter-protest by about 1,000 secularists, who say the Islamists are trying to impose an Islamic state in what has been one of the Arab world’s most liberal countries.

The Islamist protesters at the rally carried placards saying: “We support the legitimacy of the majority!,” “Islamic Tunisia is not secular!,” and “No to secularist extremism.” An Islamist protester, Nourdine Machfer, said the Tunisian people had expressed their will when they handed victory to the Islamist Ennahda party in an election in October.

Secularist opponents said they believed Ennahda’s true agenda was to create an Islamic state by stealth. “The Islamists … want to use the constitution to take power, and stage a coup d’etat against democracy,” said one of the secularist protesters, Raja Dali. Ennahda is in an awkward position because it wants to be seen to be defending the rights of Muslims to express their faith but at the same time it is wary of alarming secularists and Western governments by appearing too close to Islamist hardliners.