TUNISIA: Universities disrupted by niqab protests

Some universities in Tunisia have been disrupted by religiously motivated protesters, outsiders as well as students, demanding the right of women students to wear the niqab, the full-face veil, in class and during examinations, according to press reports.

Worst hit was the arts and humanities faculty of the University of Manouba where pro-niqab demonstrations and a sit-in began at the end of November, plunging it "into a certain chaos", reported MinuteBuzz Maghreb.

About 10 days later a student wearing a niqab was denied access to an exam, which was then cancelled for all, "causing consternation of the students [who] demanded their right to take the exams and called for firm and urgent measures against such behaviour", according to La Presse.

The following day, 6 December, the scientific committee decided to close the faculty until the evacuation of the outsiders and the end of the sit-in, reported La Presse.

Washington-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report on the incidents at Manouba and other campuses, including an interview with Habib Kazdaghli, dean of Manouba's arts and humanities faculty, who described how the protesters intimidated him and other faculty members and prevented him from entering the building.

HRW gave several accounts of intimidation of academics, including how a woman professor of Islamic studies at the Higher Institute of Theology of Tunis was told by students, including some of hers, they did not want a secular professor teaching them Islamic beliefs.

"Days later students entered her class and told her students to leave the room, saying: 'She is free to decide if she wishes to wear the hijab or not, but if she is going to teach she must wear it'," said the HRW report.

Posters around the campus insulted the professor and called her an "infidel"; after the intimidation continued for several weeks she requested a transfer to another university.

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* This article is drawn from local media. University World News cannot vouch for the accuracy of the original reports.