Tunisian police fired tear gas yesterday afternoon to disperse nearly a hundred protesters, led by Salafists, in downtown Tunis.
Demonstrators congregated outside El Fat’h mosque on the much-frequented Liberté Avenue to condemn Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki’s recent comments, characterizing supporters of the controversial Egyptian cleric Wajdi Ghoneim – whose recent arrival in Tunisia attracted a lot of criticism - as “bacteria” in an interview on the national television channel, Al Wataniya.
The president publicly apologized for using such a pejorative term on Thursday, yet it appeared that Ghoneim supporters were not swayed by his apology.
As yesterday’s Friday prayers concluded, denunciations of Marzouki’s comments rose to a crescendo, drowning the mosque in a deafening din. When the Imam attempted to calm the emotions of the crowd, more chaos ensued, and protesters filed out of the mosque and began to march towards the nearby intersection of Place de La Republique. However, police forces, already anticipating the protests, blocked their way and tried to reason with the leaders of the demonstration.
In the background, chants of “The People Want A Caliphate” could be heard. Banners, emblazoned with statements of “I am a Muslim, I am not bacteria,” “Islamic Unity against secularism” and “Ghoneim, Beloved by Millions,” were unfurled by protesters. As the demonstration showed no signs of abating, police resorted to tear gas bombs in order to scatter the agitated crowd.
For the past few weeks, protests following Friday prayers at the El Fat’h mosque have become regular, and are sometimes organized by the moderate Islamist party Ennahdha as was the case in last week’s pro-Syria demonstration.