'Harlem Shake' pits students against salafists
By Yasmine Najjar for Magharebia in Tunis – 03/03/13
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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