Radical Islamists seize control of Tunisia mosques

Wed Nov 2, 2011 11:25am EDT
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By Tom Heneghan

TUNIS (Reuters) - Radical Islamists have seized control of 150 to 200 mosques and prayer halls around Tunisia this year, a senior religious official said Wednesday.

Official control over Tunisia's 5,000 mosques and small prayer halls has relaxed since the January revolution that toppled autocratic president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, allowing radicals to occupy some of them, Jamel Oueslati told Reuters.

There were also cases where imams and congregations thwarted takeover bids, said Oueslati, who is chief of staff to Religious Affairs Minister Aroussi Mizouri in the caretaker government. He had no figures for such cases.

"After January 14, some extremist tendencies invaded certain mosques," he said, referring to the day Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia. "The ministry has no power to pressure them. We have to wait until things calm down and we'll see what we can do.

"This is an exceptional situation. This tendency is a reaction to the years of oppression and lack of free expression. They now have the opportunity to express their views, often aggressively."

The moderate Islamist party Ennahda, which advocates democracy and pledges not to impose religious bans on the secularist minority here, won 40 percent of the vote in the October 23 election for a constituent assembly.

It is expected to form a coalition with two large secularist parties to run the country and write a new constitution.