TUNIS (Reuters) - Clashes broke out between alcohol sellers and hardline Salafi Muslims in the Tunisian capital, a security official said on Sunday, wounding a police commander in the latest illustration of religious tensions in the home of the “Arab Spring”.
Tunisia, whose authoritarian president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was overthrown by a popular uprising last year, now has an elected Islamist-led government.
The struggle over the role of religion in government and society has since emerged as the most divisive issue in the North African country, which for decades was considered one of the most secular countries in the Arab world.
On Saturday night, a group of hardline Salafi Muslims attacked alcohol vendors in their small shops, a security official said. Police intervened to stop the violence.
“Commander Wissam Ben Sliman was injured last night in clashes after Salafis attacked alcohol sellers in the Dawar Hicher (area),” Sami Gnaoui, a member of the National Guard (police) syndicate said. “They attacked him with a knife in the neck. He is now in hospital in critical condition.”
Last month, dozens of Salafi Muslims attacked a hotel in Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of Tunisia’s revolution, because it was serving alcohol. They destroyed furniture and smashed bottles of alcohol.
Gnaoui said it was the second time Salafis had attacked national security personnel in the Dawar Hicher neighborhood, a poor area on the outskirts of Tunis.
He said a mosque in the area, called “Nour Mosque”, had become “like a military base where Salafis are hiding Molotov cocktails, knives and sticks”. Interior ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.
Tension has been growing between Islamists and secularists since the Islamist Ennahda Movement won an election last year.
Ennahdha, a moderate Islamic group, formed a coalition with two non-religious parties and has promised not to ban alcohol, impose the veil or use sharia as the basis of Tunisian law.
It is under pressure from both hardline Salafi Muslims calling for the introduction of Islamic law and secular opposition parties determined to prevent this.
The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said this month Tunisia was failing to crack down on Islamist violence against advocates of secularism, including journalists and artists.
Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Rosalind Russell