March 25th is dedicated in the world to theater. In the spirit of that day, stage actors gathered at Habib Bourguiba Avenue, in front of the Municipal Theatre, Tunis. But, apparently, this event coincided with a demonstration staged by a religious group that most Tunisians refer to as “Salafists”. The term “Salafist” is beginning to replace the word “Islamist” in Tunis these days. Never mind that activities attributed to these so-called Salafists, including pursuing women to force them to wear the hijab or niqab, raiding bookshops and bars, and threatening owners of such establishments, is in contrast to the original Salafist movement that emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a part of the enlightenment and reform movement that was grounded in peaceful change.

Back to Habib Bourguiba in Tunis. The gathering of “Salafists” reportedly threw eggs, bottles and other objects at the performing artists. They also allegedly prevented the artists from leaving the theatre until rescued by the police. Following this incident, Tunis artists condemned both the interior and culture ministries for failing to protect the actors from the violence and for not protecting their freedom of speech from the “salafists”. This was not the end of the matter though. Come May 26: the revenge of the theater actors on Habib Bourguiba. This time around, the events went well without much hitch. No counter gatherings of salafists. Plays, operas, children’s events, participatory performances by audiences and even some “open society” speeches lit up the front of the municipal theater. Some of the activities and performances are captured and presented in the photos above, below and on our Tumblr.

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