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Tunisians Erupt in Anger over Desecration of Flag

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Tunisians Erupt in Anger over Desecration of Flag

Famous picture showing the Salafist man who took down the Tunisian flag and replaced it with the black flag and the Tunisian girl who rushed to defend the Tunisian flag

Tunisian politicians and civil society have reacted mostly with resounding nationalist solidarity to the recent incident of flag desecration by religious activists at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at Manouba University.

One young woman – Kahaoula Rashidi, a student at Manouba University – has attained a degree of celebrity after a video of her attempt to stop the Tunisian flag from being taken down was circulated widely on a number of social media outlets. Moreover, a photo of the confrontation was featured on the front page of the Maghreb newspaper.

Many Tunisians have reacted strongly to the video in which a young man wearing a traditional robe and long beard takes down the Tunisian flag, replaces it with a black flag bearing the shahada (the Islamic declaration of faith) – a symbol associated with Islamic conservatism – and pushes Rashidi off a wall as she tries to intervene.

The Tunisian state press agency (TAP) reported that the clashes surrounding the incident resulted in five injuries, three of which needed urgent medical intervention. While many have called the protesters responsible for the flag incident ‘Salafists,’ TAP reported that Mohamed Bakhti, the spokesperson of Salafist students in Manouba, denied his movement’s responsibility for the desecration of the flag, saying that it was an isolated act.

Tunisian politicians have spoken out in great numbers against what they perceive as a desecration of the flag of the republic. The Office of the Presidency and several parties released statements condemning the act.

Maya Jribi, the general secretary of the opposition Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), praised Kahaoula Rashidi’s courage. “I salute the bravery of this young lady, who did not hesitate for a second to defend her nation’s flag,” she said. She went on to state that the Salafists’ violent behavior was becoming a dangerous phenomenon, and asked the government to take vigorous action against rising religious extremism.

Issam Chebbi, a PDP-affiliated member of the National Constituent Assembly, recalled the haste of the Tunisian authorities to arrest a Tunisian journalist for publishing the picture of half-naked woman. A journalist was arrested and spent the night in jail whereas the person who dishonored the Tunisian flag is free, he shouted during the Constituent Assembly session that was held on Thursday.

During the session, members of the assembly put small Tunisian flags on their desks to express their discontent with the mistreatment of the flag.

However, Interior Minister Ali Laarayedh from the moderate Islamist Ennahda party did not place blame on the Salafist activists, reproaching instead Habib Kazdaghli, the dean of the University of Manouba, for having mishandled the conflict and contributed to the polarization of the situation.

Laarayedh announced that there will be an investigation into the events surrounding the incident at Manouba. Some Tunisians, however, remain unconvinced, expressing  their doubt over social media concerning the willingness of the government to deal with the situation.

Manouba University has periodically been the arena of protests since last January, with religious activists demanding the repeal of the university's internal law that bans female students from wearing the Niqab – a veil that covers the face – during classes and exams.

The old Tunisian penal code outlaws any attack on the Tunisian flag. With a new constitution currently being drafted, the applicability of that code may be in question. However, Samir Dilou, spokesperson of the interim government and minister of human rights and transitional justice, asserted that the individual responsible for mishandling the flag will be prosecuted even in the absence of a law criminalizing this action.

The Tunisian flag, officially adopted in 1959, is colored in white and red, standing for peace and the blood of Tunisian martyrs respectively. The crescent and the five pointed star make reference to Tunisia’s Arab-Muslim identity, as they respectively symbolize Arab unity and the five pillars of Islam.

  • European

    In my country, one “artist” once burned or ripped (can’t remember) our national flag on the stage in my city. He was celebrated by the media as a fighter versus nationalism, and few people (me included) who stood against him were accused of being ultra-nationalist and reactionary.

    On the topic, I don’t support removing the national flag, but I support the Salafis fight for recognition, as they are not recognized as a political party. Look, the man only wanted attention, and he did it in a wrong manner, but I wouldn’t be so strict towards him if he hadn’t done so stupid thing.

    The woman is pretty much the same type of person as him, only wanted to be applauded as a “hero”, as she knew that he probably wouldn’t do anything to her.

    I know people of both kinds (the ones which have need to act stupidly to promote their (mostly extremist) ideals, and the ones which are egoistic and want to be seen at as heroes by doing things which are of no importance to society), and, although both of them are brave, I think the best for them is to find a good psychiatrist. Or better, let them do some work from which the society will benefit, such as helping old or homeless people.

  • Publicola

    The question is, if the declared aims of a political party (e.g. of the Salfist party) contravene a democratic constitution or not. In many European countries it is up to a constitutional court to check the specific political party for this its constitutionality or unconstitutionality.
    If the aims of the political party concerned contravene the principles of the democratic constitution, it will be declared illegal and will be banned.

    And quite rightly so.

    • European

      It can be solved easily. If the Salafis came in power, and if they would want to suspend democracy, there is a special Court which can block all decisions which are against constitution. But, then there is a question, impossible to answer, if majority don’t want democracy, should there be democracy at all?

    • Martin

      Dear Publicola,
      Tunisians aren’t well educated especially in politics. I don’t think many Tunisians understand this basic principle you just explained.
      In politics I dare say they are troglodytes with tendencies towards an absurd nationalism.

      In General:
      There where upraisings last year that let the former president Ben ‘Ali to flee the country. Ever since all I see is a headless bunch of uneducated people that are incaple of governing themselves, fighting over a flag, desperatly seeking money from abroad.
      It’s “fauda” chaos.

      No, they can’t- it’s a pitty.

  • Al

    Glad someone is finally being brave in the face of these heathans. The flag people died for desicrated and disrespected. Cant wait for thousands upon thousands to stand up against these Salafi. That woman is braver than hundreds of men who watched. Listen and understand peopl, these Salafis are a bunch of uneducated people with no academic or economic prospects- all they have is their view of religion- it dominates their life, and they would love it to dominate yours. They benefit now that democracy is allowing them to exist , but you see, them existing in a democratic society is like mixing oil to vinegar, they dont mix. They dont want to mix. If they took control the whole country will suffer unbeleivably . They have taken over the revolution and Ennahda has watched it happen. I dont care what anyone says, They dont represent me or the hundreds of ppl in my extended family, nor do they represent most Tunisians.

  • Martin

    I don’t like either of the two flags, nor any other national flag.

    The Tunisian flag stands for an upcoming Nationalism.

    The black flag stands for,
    religious extremism.

    None of them is mine.

    There is only one flag I like:

    It’s a rainbow colored flag bearing the word PEACE!

    • Martin

      By the way:
      A flag is not sacred. How can it be desecrated???

      • Reading posts like this make surfing such a pleurase

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