x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Tunisians call for end to campus veil standoff

Students and professors are calling for an end to the standoff by ultraconservative Muslims at a university over whether veils can be worn in classrooms.

TUNIS // Students and professors are calling for an end to the standoff by ultraconservative Muslims at a university over whether veils can be worn in classrooms.

For more than a month classes and exams at Manouba University's humanities department have been put on hold by a sit-in demanding students be allowed to attend class in a face veil.

About 200 students and professors demonstrated on Wednesday in the capital calling for the sit-in to end.

"Science before the niqab," and "no to shackles, no to niqab, knowledge is free," read the signs of the demonstrators, who urged the minister of higher education to resolve the dispute so classes could resume.

University policy prevents students from covering their faces during class.

The sit-in has been the latest crisis faced by Tunisia since it overthrew its dictator last year, who had aggressively promoted secular policies.

In his absence, there has been a resurgence of ultraconservative Muslims, who are seeking a greater role for Islam in public life.

The department's dean, Habib Kazdaghli, attended the protest and said that the people blocking classes weren't even university students.

Mr Kazdaghli said the Salafists attacked him and prevented him from going to his office.

The actions by the Salafists, including calls for more public prayer, have put the new Tunisia government, headed by a moderate Islamist group, in an awkward position.

The governing moderate Islamist Ennahda Party originally did not speak out against the actions of the Salafists, but subsequently has condemned any violence or interruption of classes.