When the Tunisian Ennahda Islamists came to power, we were incessantly told by the media that they were moderates. They don’t look very moderate right now. Violence is up, unemployment is up, the government is hated and Salafis are running wild.
Stories like these show the changes that have been taking place in Tunisia under Islamist rule.
When artist Nadia Jelassi exhibited work in Tunis last year, she hoped the piece would prove a talking point. But when ultra-conservative Salafist Muslims took an interest in her installation at a spring arts festival in Tunisia’s capital, the reaction was much stronger than she bargained for.
Deeming a number of artworks in the exhibition heretical, Islamist extremists vandalized the gallery, issued death threats to Jelassi and fellow exhibitors, and rioted in the streets in some of the most serious unrest since the 2011 revolution.
Along with fellow artist Mohamed Ben Slama, she now faces charges of harming public order and morals through her work — charges that could see them sentenced to up to five years in prison if convicted.
“I never imagined this could happen, not even in my worst nightmares,” said Jelassi.
One of the pieces that triggered the protests was Jelassi’s installation “Celui qui n’a pas … (Anyone who has not … ),” which featured mannequins of traditionally veiled women, positioned amongst a pile of stones, with text written on both the female figures and the stones.
Salafi Imams have called for her death, with one saying, “Then, they depicted our Salafi sons as this monster that is going to devour Tunisia. This is an assault. Whoever did this is an infidel in plain terms, whose blood needs to be spilled and should be killed.”