Clash Between Extremists and Students in a Tunisian University
Yesterday, violence erupted in the University of Manouba, after an ultra-conservative Salafi Muslim climbed to the roof of a building on the campus to replace the Tunisian flag with a black flag bearing the shahada, the Islamic declaration of faith. Members of the University’s Student Union tried to intervene but clashed with Salafi supporters. 5 students reportedly suffered severe injuries. Mohammed Bakhti, a spokesman for the Salafi students said “we demand a prayer room and access for all students wearing the niqab to classes and exams, as is allowed in the United States, Britain, and Germany.” Bakhti was reacting to an altercation yesterday between two students wearing the niqab and the Dean of the University, Habib Kazdaghli. The students asked the Dean to end the ban on wearing the full veil. Kazdaghli denied that he attacked one of the students, saying, “one of them barged into my office and attacked me and my books and documents, I had to push her away and I still have bruises from it.” The Vice-Chairman of the Ettakatol parliamentary group in the Constituent Assembly, Sélim Be Abdessalem, called (Ar) on Ali Laarayedh, the Minister of Interior and Ennahda member, to intervene against the insult to the Tunisian flag and saluted the young woman who tried to prevent it.
The crisis in the University began three month ago on November 28th, 2011, when students attempted (Fr) to wear the niqab. The demonstration became a continuous sit-in. Since then, the situation has worsened; courses were interrupted for one month, students and professors were insulted, and class materials were damaged. Some of the students accused Kazdaghi of being intransigent, but he argued that niqabs were allowed on the campus and in the library but were forbidden during the classes for “security and educational reasons.” The Minster of Higher Education, Moncef Ben Salem, has not clearly expressed his opinion on the matter since the beginning of the tensions.
Meanwhile, in an interview on BBC news, President Moncef Marzouki confirmed Tunisia’s offer of asylum to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. Marzouki stated “if we want to stop the killing the only way is to have a solution like the Yemeni solution: that the president leaves power and that he has safe haven, somewhere to go.”