An ugly food fight in Tunisia

A fight between hardline Salafists at a Tunisian mosque on Tuesday was hardly big news. A brief story by AFP on the incident was buried by reports from Aleppo and coverage of the attack in Sinai. However, the clash between rival Islamists serves as a reflection of the current state of affairs in the country that sparked the Arab Spring.

Apparently, followers of a Salafist scholar angered a group of "jihadists" by beginning iftar, the meal that breaks Ramadan fasting, shortly before the call to prayer. The argument quickly degenerated into a knife fight, and tear gas was even used at one point.

This ugly little brawl would be unremarkable, except that radical Salafists are reportedly becoming quite bold in Tunisia these days. On Sunday, Abdelfattah Mourou, a member of Tunisia's more moderate ruling Ennahada party, was violently attacked during a conference on tolerance and Islam by another Salafist.

In June, Salafists actually rioted over an art exhibition that spelled out the name of God in insects, attacking police stations and the offices of secular parties with rocks and homemade bombs. Reuters reported in May that alcohol venders in the town of Sidi Bouzid, where Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire and the Arab Spring in motion, had repeatedly been attacked by radical Islamists.

Manouba University, a Tunisian college, was also the focus of much controversy in July over a rule forbidding female students to wear a face veil during exams.

Although it's frequently at odds with the ultraconservative Salafists, even the supposedly moderate Ennahada party is considering a bill that would criminalize blasphemy. It defines this as "insults, profanity, derision and representation of Allah and Mohammed."



Belarus's teddy bear fury continues

AFP reports that Belarus has formally expelled all Swedish diplomats, giving Stockholm until August 30th to remove all diplomatic officials from Minsk. Swedish Ambassador to Belarus Stefan Eriksson was forced to leave Minsk first after "a decision was made not to renew his credentials."

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt attributed the eviction to his country's active stance on human rights, warning that Belarusian President Aleskandr Lukashenko's "fear of human rights is reaching new heights." Blidt doubled down an hour later, tweeting "We remain strongly committed to the freedom of Belarus and all its citizens. They deserve the freedoms and the rights of the rest of Europe."

The sudden timing has many speculating that it was the recent"Teddy Bear Drop" by Swedish activists that incited the expulsion. In an original act of protest, Swedish advertising agency Studio Total flew a small private plane over Belarusian airspace, dropping stuffed toy bears with messages of free speech. In an interview with FP's Elias Groll, pilots Hannah Frey and Thomas Mazetti elaborated upon their "campaign of laughter" to highlight the regime's political and security weaknesses.

Though Belarusian officials initially denied that the teddy bear drop had even happened, two high ranking generals were fired shortly afterward for "failing to ensure national security." Belarusian blogger Anton Surapin and entrepreneur Syarhey Basharymau were later arrested on charges of involvement in the "illegal intrusion" of airspace.

Packing should be easy for the Swedish embassy. The current round of evictions comes just months after Sweden withdrew officials from its embassy in February in protest against Lukashenka's authoritarian administration.  All 27 EU member states removed diplomatic envoys after new economic sanctions were imposed, with Sweden, the Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, and Estonia not returning until late April. An emergency meeting of European Union ambassadors has been called for Friday to discuss the situation.