Tunisia is falling prey to violent Islamist mobs, a Franco-Tunisian politician from the Loire valley has warned, after he narrowly escaped a “lynching” when he returned to his native town for a family holiday.
Jamel Gharbi, 62, a Socialist regional councillor, said was set upon in Bizerte, northern Tunisia, on August 16 by a gang of 50 sword-wielding Salafists furious that his wife and 12-year old daughter were wearing shorts and T-shirts.
“I saw that they were looking at my wife and daughter in a hateful way due to their summer clothes, which were in no way provocative,” he told Le Figaro.
“They told us that we were in an Islamist country and I quickly understood that it was going to degenerate. I shouted to my wife and daughter to flee and the assailants laid into me to punch me and hit me with sticks.
“It was a lynching, it was horrible. My daughter shouted: ‘They’re going to kill daddy’ as I was covered in blood, but the worst thing was that nobody budged, nobody came to my aid, I was left to fend for myself.”
He added: “If I had fallen on the floor, I think they would have finished me off.” But he managed to break free and reach his residence, where he barricaded himself and his family in.
Suffering from cuts and severe bruising, he cut short the holiday to return to France, vowing not to return to Tunisia anytime soon.
“As soon as you leave the gilded prison of hotels and beaches you are at the mercy of gang of Salafists who rein with terror,” he said.
“People who see eye-catching adverts for white beaches for 299 euros should see what goes on behind the scenes. They mustn’t fall into these people’s claws.”
“Today the region of Bizerte is disfigured, everything’s changed, there is total insecurity, people are scared and after a certain hour one wonders what might happen. Women pay the heaviest price,” he said.
Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë, who was born in Bizerte, said: “This appalling and cowardly act perpetrated by an extremist minority violates the values of Tunisia.”
The French interior ministry said the incident occurred after some 200 hardline Islamists armed with swords and sticks attacked the closing concert of a cultural festival in Bizerte, wounding five.
It was the latest in a string of attacks by Islamists on venues they see as offensive, from art galleries to bars.
Tunisia is now run by moderate Islamist leaders, elected after last year’s ousting of strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali following a popular uprising dubbed the “jasmine revolution”, the first such upheaval of the so-called Arab spring.
The government declined to adopt sharia law in the new constitution and threatened to punish radical Islamists who seek to impose their views.
In June, al-Qaeda’s chief Ayman al-Zawahiri urged Tunisians to rise up to demand the rule of Islamic law.