TUNIS (EJP) --- The Tunisian Interior Ministry confirmed it was holding four suspects in custody following a foiled plot to kidnap Jews in the Islamist country Thursday.
Interior Ministry official Lofi Hidouri confirmed the arrests were accompanied by the seizure of two weapons, following the discovered conspiracy to kidnap young Jews in the country’s second largest Jewish community of Zarzis.
Perez Trabelsi, leader f Djerba’s Jewish community, alleged that a policeman had been at the helm of the plot to capture Jews in a bid to force the country’s remaining 2,000- strong population to leave, amid increasing islamicisation of the country, following the ousting of former authoritarian leader Zine El Abidine Ban Ali in last year’s popular uprisings. Refusing to bow to the pressure, which he characterised as an “intimidation campaign”, Trabelsi added: “This is our country, we will not leave it.”
Elsewhere, the Tunisian government was forced to make an embarrassing u-turn on its continued indecision over whether to enshrine a new law in its constitution prohibiting the normalisation of relations with Israel, after it had mistakenly claiming that Gaza-ruling terrorist group Hamas objected to proposed anti-normalisation legislation.
After Hamas issued a statement strongly refuting head of Tunisian Islamist Ennahda group A-Sahbi Atiq’s comments to Tunisian tv that Hamas had directly appealed to the administration not to proceed with the amended law, Atiq issued a retraction Wednesday, insisting his “mistaken conclusions” stemmed from the fact that during a discussion on the issue, Hamas had previously noted that no Arab state had previously drafted such a clause in its constitution.
Clearly unsatisfied with this retraction however, Hamas issued a statement reiterating that it “has always stressed the need to oppose and combat all forms of official and popular normalisation with the Zionist enemy”.
Despite long being viewed as amongst the most liberal of Arab states, having enjoyed diplomatic relations with Israel between 1994 and the start of the Second Intifada in 2000, the new Islamist adminsitration has given the Jewish State cause for concern since widely touting the possibility of introducing laws to criminalise re-establishing bilateral ties.
On meeting with EU leaders in Brussels last month, Tunisian President Hamadi Jebali described the continuing process of democratisation in the country “a historic process”, in light of delayed work on its new constitution, which had been due for completion by the end of October, he said that whilst “the main pillars of the former regime desperately need to be to reformed, it’s not a good idea to replace the whole system, (rather) to enshrine the independence of the judiciary and the democratic nature of the security services”.
He also sought to alleviate concerns about the perceived Islamicisation of Arab states in light of last year’s popular uprisings, which has also seen an Islamist President elected in Egypt, a fellow former secular state. Committing to pursuing democracy as an antidote to theocracy, he said this government sought to “serve citizens and ensure the equality of all regardless of their origin or religion, including gender equality”.
Fending off questioning from Foreign affairs Committee MEPs as to Tunisia’s official response to the violent demonstrations following the release of Islamaphobic film The Innocence of Muslims in September, which invoked collective condemnation from the international community, Jebali insisted “lessons have been learnt”.
Stressing that the attacks on the embassy and an American school in Tunisia did not reflect majority public opinion and that “Tunisian people were untied in rejecting this behaviour”, he added that they broke out in contrast to his government’s efforts to create “an open and modern society which believes in dialogue and not in violent oppression”.
The Jewish population of Tunisia dwindled from its previous high of around 100,000 to its current low of approximately 2,000, following Tunisian independence in 1956. Judaism still remains the largest religious minority in the Islamist country.