Hard-line Islamists have held their second rally since the fall of the Ben Ali regime, calling for the implementation of reforms along Islamic principles. The group's leader says they seek dialogue and reject violence.
Thousands of hard-line Islamists held a rally in central Tunisia on Sunday, calling for the spread of Shariah law in the north African nation, known as the cradle of the Arab Spring and one of the most secular countries in the Islamic world.
Ansar al-Shariah, or Partisans of Islamic Law, held their second annual rally in Kairouan, the fourth holiest city in Islam. The hard-line Salafist movement got its start in April 2011 after a popular uprising toppled long-time ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, sparking a wave of revolt that swept the authoritarian regimes in Libya and Egypt from power.
The movement's followers, who descended on the town from all over Tunisia, waved black flags and draped a banner over the minaret of the town mosque, the oldest in Africa.
Seifallah ben Hassine called for media, education, tourism and the commercial sectors to be reformed along Islamic principals. Hassine was one of the founders of the Tunisian Combatant Group, which was listed by the UN in 2002 for having ties to al Qaeda. He was captured in Turkey in 2003 and then imprisoned in Tunisia, but was subsequently granted amnesty after the fall of Ben Ali.
Hassine said that Ansar al-Shariah sought to pursue its goals through dialogue, not force.
"For those in charge of tourism in this country, we say that for over a year there has been no attack on a single hotel or a single tourist," he said. "We restrain ourselves. We say this is to be done through preaching."
Role of religion
The state encouraged secularism during the Ben Ali regime, closely watching men who grew beards and went to mosque and discouraging women from wearing the veil.
But after the ouster of the Ben Ali in January 2011, the moderate Islamist Ennahda party came to power through parliamentary elections held that October, sparking a national debate over the role of religion in government. Ennahda has opted to form a coalition with two secular parties and has said it would not seek to impose Shariah law on the country.
Despite Ennahda's promise to largely keep religion out of politics, Hassine has said that his movement would not clash with the moderate Islamist party.
"They want there to be a break between us and other Muslim currents," Hassine said. "…But no matter how much we differ with other Muslims in this land, our religion prevents this."
slk/pfd (Reuters, AFP)