Tunisian artists cry for help against religious extremists

Wed Sep 19, 2012 11:36am EDT
 
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By Tarek Amara

Tunis (Reuters) - A few hours before Lotfi Abdeli was due to stage his play "Made in Tunisia, 100 percent halal" last month, hundreds of Salafi Muslims who believed the show was offensive to Islam occupied the open air theatre and began to pray.

The play, a satire about politics and religion, was cancelled.

It was not the first time religious hardliners have stopped the plays of Abdeli, a Tunisian actor and playwright known for criticizing ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben-Ali before last year's revolution.

At last week's Hammamet festival, Abdeli, whose life has been threatened, was accompanied by personal guards.

"I am not afraid of threats or assault, but I do really fear for our freedom of expression and creativity, which is the only thing that we got out of the revolution," Abdeli told Reuters.

"I am unhappy with the current situation for intellectuals in Tunisia: threats, beatings and being prevented from performing. I feel boxed into a tight corner but I will not remain silent."

The role of Islam in government and society has emerged as the most divisive issue in Tunisia in the wake of the popular uprising against secular strongman Ben Ali that sparked last year's "Arab Spring".

The Islamist-led government that won elections in October must tread a delicate line between conservatives who see the revolution as a chance to express a religious identity suppressed by Ben Ali and secularists who want to broaden freedom of expression.   Continued...

 
Women walk past a poster of the play “Made in Tunisia, 100 percent halal” by Tunisian actor and playwright Lotfi Abdeli in Tunis September 18, 2012. A few hours before Abdeli was due to stage his play "Made in Tunisia, 100 percent halal" last month, hundreds of Salafi Muslims who believed the show was offensive to Islam occupied the open air theatre and began to pray. The play, a satire about politics and religion, was cancelled. It was not the first time religious hardliners have stopped the plays of Abdeli, a Tunisian actor and playwright known for criticising ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben-Ali before last year's revolution. Picture taken September 18, 2012. To match Feature TUNISIA-SALAFI/ART REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi