In the Streets

See video

Included in this blog post is some video I took at a protest last Sunday morning on Bourguiba Avenue Avenue. It was on this street that Tunisians famously convinced Ben Ali to "degage" 14 months ago. According to a decision made by Tunisia's Ministry of the Interior, this may have been that last time that anyone can protest on that very symbolic street.

According to my host sister and her friends, Sunday's demonstration was insprired by an incidence of Quran desecration that had occurred a week earlier. The group was seeking punishment for a someone who had ripped up a Quran and flushed several pages down a toilet, they told me. They were also marching because they wanted to see more incorporation of Shari'a (Islamic law) in the new constitution. Though I didn't understand all of the groups' chants, I heard several specific demands for "God's law," and an insistence that the Quran was perfect, inimitable, and must be followed.

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More than anything else, I was completely overwhelmed by the number of people at the protest. Dozens of Islamic groups and Salafist organizations were marching together in solidarity, and it made for an impressive scene as the many contingents finally converged at the center of the protest. It seemed like thousands of men wearing black and white (the colors of the Salafist flag) marched past us as we made our way up the avenue. Quite a few women were also in attendance, though the 50 or 60 of them stood separately from the men.

It was also surprisingly well organized, and even friendly. We asked a few of the women why they had come to the demonstration, and they happily talked to my host sister, and once directly to me once she realized I could understand some Arabic. With my tight jeans, braided hair visible to the world, and ever present camera, I was an obvious outsider. Still, no one hassled me or made me feel unsafe. Young men in bright colored vests even corralled people and kept them out of the road so that the demonstration wouldn't disrupt traffic.

Surprisingly, the next morning I saw news reports describing violence and disorder at the protest. Apparantly, after I left Bourguiba aroun 11:30 AM, several groups within the larger Islamist body broke down into violence.