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Protests 2013-03-03

'Harlem Shake' pits students against salafists

By Yasmine Najjar for Magharebia in Tunis – 03/03/13

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A group of baton-wielding salafists on Saturday (March 2nd) prevented secondary school pupils from performing the "Harlem Shake" dance in El Kef.

The incident at the "Ahmed Amara" lyceum in the northern governorate came a day after hundreds braved the rain in front of the education ministry in Tunis to perform the dance.

The Friday action came in response to a probe ordered by the education minister into a dance video recorded at the Imam Muslim High School in the Menzah 6 district of Tunis.

"The ministry of education has demanded an investigation and the department will take appropriate measures," Education Minister Abdellatif Abid told Radio Mosaique last Monday.

He said there could be possible "expulsions" of students or "sacking" of educational staff involved in the staging of the dance.

The YouTube video featuring some pupils dancing in shorts and others mimicking salafists spawned imitation actions across the country.

Last Thursday, salafists prevented fellow Manouba University students from performing the dance. A day earlier, the same incident occurred at the Bourguiba Institute of Modern Languages in the El Khadra neighbourhood of Tunis.

Witnesses said that salafists backed by veiled students had stormed the institute to stop the dance, causing a scuffle between the two parties. Students, however, succeeded in recording the video after the salafists retreated.

Several other schools were assaulted in Sousse and Sidi Bouzid.

Meanwhile, Abid maintained that his ministry was "not against" dance or "Harlem Shake" but objected to "the excesses that do not comply with educational guidelines".

"The investigation is an internal and not a judicial one, with the objective to determine responsibilities and to prevent the recurrence of abuses," the education minister said about the controversial probe. "The ministry of education is not against art and entertainment, but encourages students to be creative and study fine arts and music."

But for some Tunisian students, the internet phenomenon has taken on a completely different meaning.

"Expressive dance remains a form of response to the intellectual and religious extremism that has swept our schools," university student Maysem Mahmoudi told Magharebia.

Still, she argued that people should express themselves "with respect to morality".

For her part, student Maha Bouricha admitted to having participated in one of the dance protests.

"Yes, I danced with my colleagues in the school to say to these extremists that Tunisia is a country of openness, not seclusion," she told Magharebia. "We are here to express with our bodies our need for freedom and we do not want to live as our parents did before the revolution. They were not able to express themselves and their concerns."

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  1. Anonymous thumb

    ahmed algerien 2013-5-29

    Long live Tunisia and Algeria - Ahmed!

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  2. Anonymous thumb

    ahmed algerien 2013-5-29

    I say long live Tunisia! I am a free Algerian. I love Tunisia. God willing, it will be safe and secured.

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  3. Anonymous thumb

    qui s'en souci? 2013-3-18

    This is not only pointless, but also stupid and dangerous because there is no reason for us to be afraid of our neighbours regardless of their clothing or facial hair. And the Education Minister only exacerbated this situation by drawing light to it. Had he shut his mouth, this would have never stayed in the media spotlight as another false point of contention.

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  4. Anonymous thumb

    qui s'en souci? 2013-3-18

    To tell the truth, if it weren't for the education minister, the imbecile, who should have kept quiet instead of commenting on the matter, much less opening an investigation, this video would be a non-issue. Students are students, and no harm came from the original video, even if it was tasteless. Students of this age are known for being too loud, too insecure with themselves and too inconsiderate of others. It's no surprise that they would choose to get attention this way. And, in fact, there is nothing wrong with the Harlem Shake video that they filmed, except one thing: it shows the degree to which the media has wrongly convinced them that our country is under attack by so-called extremists. The truth is that the number of extremists here is not that high, but our media has deceitfully convinced these students that they need to be worried and afraid, and that is why they felt the need to mock "salafists" in their video. In fact, what is going on in Tunisia is that Ben Ali and now our media, which is still largely run by former Ben Ali supporters, have polarised and keep on polarising the country. So now, people who support Ennahda, for example, feel the need to have beards and wear the hijab to show their support when in fact, five or ten years ago they would not have cared about this. In turn, the former Ben Ali supporters in the media has labelled everyone who has a beard an "extremist" or a "salafist", and the result that people are scared of each other.

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  5. Anonymous thumb

    khouloud jouini 2013-3-7

    Everyone is free in his life. You have nothing to do with Salafists. Live and let live

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