Tunisia's Secular-Religious Tension Heightens

Kathryn Montalbano: In post-revolution Tunisia, tensions between what have been described as secular and conservative Muslim citizens recently heightened in the capital, Tunis, foreboding one of the major difficulties the country will face in rebuilding its sovereignty.  On Tuesday, members of the Islamist Salafist movement, which has propagated its demands in several Arab countries this spring (i.e. Jordan and Egypt), demanded the return of six of their activists who’d been arrested for vandalizing a cinema that was host to a group of secular lawyers. The film being screened, “Ni Allah, ni Maitre” (“Neither Allah, nor Master”), centered on secularism in Tunisia and subsequently offended the Islamist activists. Twenty-eight demonstrators were arrested in the aftermath of the raid.  (Note: Salafism is not intrinsically synonymous with terrorism.

The Salafist movement in Tunisia functions analogously in the post-revolutionary Egyptian reconstruction, inevitably crucial in deciding whether the nation will follow a more religious or secular path: “‘There is going to be a battle between two visions for Egypt,’ said Abdel Moneim El-Shahat, a leader in Egypt’s fundamentalist Salafist movement, whose members spent long years in jail under President Hosni Mubarak.”  Apparently, finding a route between these two polarities is proving difficult.

Egypt and Tunisia have both recently postponed their first democratic elections, Western observers say to defer radical Islamic groups from overtaking the process without a chance for other secular parties to contend.  In Tunisia, the two front-runner parties are currently the Islamist Nadha Party and the left-of-center Parti Démocrate Progressiste (PDP): fear about the preservation of individual liberties dominates citizens on both sides of the political spectrum.

For a quick synopsis of “conflict status” in the Arab world, check out CNN’s conveniently color-coded interactive map.

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