On Sunday, April 22, a group of demonstrators prevented Tunisian anthropologist and philosopher Youssef Seddik from holding a conference in the coastal town of Kélibia, located in northeastern Tunisia. The Cultural Center of Kelibia intended to host a conference on religious fanaticism on Sunday morning with Tunisian writers Youssef Seddik and Olfa Youssef.
Olfa Youssef and Youssef Seddik, are known for their “liberal” and “rational” interpretation of the Quran and Islamic traditions.
The meeting was organized by the Association of Civic Action of Kelibia, in collaboration with the Arab Institute of Human Rights. Youssef Seddik states that while Olfa Youssef declined the invitation, he insisted on attending the conference.
According to a statement released by the Association of Civic Action of Kelibia on its official Facebook page, a group of approximately forty bearded men locked the entrance doors of the cultural center with padlocks, and formed a human shield to prevent anyone from reaching the center.
Seddik described the demonstrators as Salafists – individuals adhering to a strict, conservative interpretation of the Quran and other Islamic teachings – and stated that the group threatened to attack him or anyone else who tried to attend the conference. According to the statement of the Association of Civic Action of Kelibia, one of the protesters later climbed on the roof of the center, removed the Tunisian flag, and replaced it with a black banner bearing the Muslim declaration of faith – “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger.”
In light of the disturbance, the organizing committee decided to change the location of the conference to the premises of another local organization, in order to protect Seddik and the attendees. “Around 450 [people] attended the conference, despite the disruption of the Salafists…I nonetheless remained calm and decided to change the subject of the conference to talk about tolerance in Islam instead,” said Seddik.
Seddik and the Kelibia Association for Civic Action both condemned the non-intervention of police forces posted in the area, to “restore order.” The association also condemned the Salafists’ use of “slogans that are against the principles of the republic” and of takfir – the act of calling someone an infidel.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Seddik held a peaceful march with the conference attendees to protest the disturbance. The marchers shouted, “No Salafism,” sang the national anthem of Tunisia, and held signs calling for a Tunisian civil state.