October 1, 2012 Special Dispatch No. 4984

Self-Criticism In North African Media Following Violent Demonstrations Against Anti-Islam Film

October 1, 2012
Morocco, North Africa, Tunisia | Special Dispatch No. 4984

Two recent articles in the Tunisian and Moroccan media expressed self-criticism over mid-September 2012's violent reactions in the Arab and Muslim world to the anti-Islam film.

In a September 21, 2012 op-ed in the Moroccan weekly Tel Quel, titled "The Average Muslim...." the weekly's editor in chief, Karim Boukhari, criticized the violent reactions to the film as well as the protests against the cartoon of Muhammad published by the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. According to Boukhari, "the average Muslim" doesn't know that in a free country, an article or a cartoon expresses the point of view of an individual, not of a country – unlike what happens under the regimes in the Arab world.

The previous week, on September 14, 2012, Salafis protesting against the film attacked the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia's capital Tunis. The attack was condemned by Tunisian secular civil society, which accused the Tunisian government, led by the Islamist party Al-Nahda, of not having taken adequate measures to protect the embassy.

The same day, Tunisian columnist Nourredine Hlaoui wrote a column in the Tunisian media outlet Business News titled "Tunisia Is Humiliated By Her Salafi Children." The title refers to a speech given by Al-Nahda leader Rached Ghannouchi a few months ago, in which he stated that the Salafis "are our children; they don't come from Mars, [and] they promise a new culture enriching the country."[1] Following the attack on the embassy, however, Ghannouchi, in a September 21, 2012 statement to the AFP, referred to the attackers as "those people," saying, "Those people represent a danger not only for Al-Nahda, but also for public freedoms in the country, and for the security of the country. It is for this reason that we all contend with these groups, but using means respectful of the law."

The following are excerpts of Boukhari's article, and, following that, excerpts of Hlaoui's column, both originally in French.

Boukhari's "The Average Muslim…" – Karim Boukhari, Tel Quel, September 21, 2012

"Yesterday It Was the U.S. Paying The Price; Today, It Is Up To France"

"As we suspected, the affair of the film 'Innocence of Muslims' is far from over. The rage of the average Muslim – this person who is always on the brink of implosion – is boiling everywhere. Rage is always blind, aimed at everything and anything. Yesterday it was the U.S. paying the price; today, it is up to France. After [U.S. President Barack] Obama, it is now [France's President François] Hollande's turn.

"How could this happen? Our colleagues at [the French satirical newspaper] Charlie Hebdo, with the intent of exploiting the film's affair, have added a new episode, publishing... another caricature of the Prophet [Muhammad], which is neither more 'malicious' nor more improper than the previous ones. This was more than enough for France to become... a potential target of the blind rage of 'Muslims.' Rage? Rather, madness. And Morocco, obviously, was not spared."

"The Average Muslim... Doesn't Know... That In A Free Country, An Article And A Cartoon Express The Point Of View And Sensibility Of An Individual, Not Of A Country"

"A friend of mine told me: 'My 10-year-old daughter asked me: 'Dad, why is Hollande attacking our Prophet?' That is what they told her at school…' Most of the public, meaning Mr. Anybody, the average Muslim, doesn't know Charlie Hebdo. He doesn't know that satirical journalism is nothing but a particular and respectable kind [of journalism]. He also doesn't know that 'our Prophet' and 'our religion,' to use current terminology, are not the only sources of laughter and mockery in dubious taste. He ignores the fact that the interdiction against representing the Prophet or mocking Islam is law only in the lands of Islam, not in the rest of the world (the lands of Islam being only a small part of the globe). Above all, he ignores – and this is the most dramatic aspect – the fact that that in a free country, an article and a cartoon express the point of view and sensibility of an individual, not of a country.

Tel Quel editor-in-chief Karim Boukhari[2]

"It Was Not The U.S. Government And Its Diplomatic Representatives Who Produced 'Innocence Of Muslims'"

"It was not the U.S. government and its diplomatic representatives who produced 'Innocence of Muslims.' And it was not François Hollande and his ministers, or their embassies and schools around the world, who mocked the Prophet [Muhammad]. But go and explain that to the average Muslim, whose nerves are always on edge, whose sensitivity and touchiness are much higher than the world average, who ultimately has no sense of humor, no notion of self-derision, [no concept] of taking a critical distance. A 'child' always on the brink of falling apart or going out of control, who thinks he's very special and the center of the world, ready to be enraged the second his ultra-sensitive points are touched, or someone makes fun of his uniqueness...."

"The Average Muslim Feels That He Is Being Attacked By... The U.S. And France... In His Eyes, This Legitimizes Any And All Actions"

"...The average Muslim feels that he is being attacked by two of the most important nations in the world: the U.S. and France. My God! In his eyes, this legitimizes any and all actions against the [diplomatic] representations linked to these two countries. And it is not the silence of the Muslim world's political and religious authorities that will persuade him of the contrary. Heads of state, political and religious leaders – this entire little world is silent, afraid that the least call for reason might be wrongly interpreted (by the said average Muslim) as siding with the forces of evil. This is the present state of things."

"Tunisia Is Humiliated By Her Salafi Children" – Nourredine Hlaoui, Business News, September 14, 2012

"Salafis Were 'Escorted' By Security Forces"

"'These are our children. They are heralding a new culture.' The words of [the leader of the Tunisian Islamist Al-Nahda party] Rached Ghannouchi on Salafis cannot be forgotten. It is undeniable that the Islamist Al-Nahda party's president has never measured the real danger represented by these Salafis, who were released after the [Tunisian] revolution and set free, the crimes they have committed during the last months notwithstanding....

"Only few days ago, [Tunisian President] Moncef Marzouki,[3] the former defender of human rights, complained in [the French daily] Le Figaro about Tunisia's disastrous image in the Western media. A few days previously, [Marzouki], along with several ministers, accused Tunisian media of presenting a negative and false image of Tunisia.

"Today, Friday, September 14, 2012, Tunisian television channels (private and public) took a step backward in order not to broadcast any images of the attacks to the U.S. Embassy in Tunis. During the clashes, only documentaries and songs were broadcast – whereas Al-Jazeera, France 24, and the BBC broadcast live from the embassy.

Salafists attacking the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia[4]

"Marzouki and other Tunisian ministers should find another scapegoat to justify their incompetency and the bad image offered by Tunisia. Shame will haunt Tunisia for not having been able to protect a foreign embassy, when it had been known for at least three days that the attack was going to take place.

"However, we must acknowledge that security forces had been massively deployed in front of and around the embassy.

"Soon after Friday's weekly prayer (around 2 PM), Salafists left mosques by the hundreds and headed, on foot, by pick-up or by car, towards the Berges du Lac, [which harbors the U.S. Embassy] 6 kilometers north of [Tunisian capital] Tunis.

The doctor, with heart with Tunisian flag in his pocket, fills Salafi militant's head with "Intelligence, Non-Violence, Democracy, Savoir-vivre, Tolerance."[5]

"These Salafis were 'escorted' by security forces, as we were able to witness, to the Z4 [a road in Tunis] close to the former RCD's [Constitutional Democratic Rally[6]] headquarters.

Al-Jazeera Tried To Exculpate Salafists

"The boulevard in front of the embassy had since the morning been closed to traffic (in the direction towards Tunis) for over 500 meters. Barbed wire had been put across the road prior to the beginning of weekly prayers. In the morning, as we were able to witness, pedestrians could still have access to the embassy.

"[Then] how is it possible that these Salafis were able to overcome these roadblocks comprising hundreds of policemen, vans, buses, and even armored tanks? This is a serious question considering the ridiculous ease with which attackers were able to enter the premises of the U.S. Embassy – supposedly the best-protected site in the country.

"In fact, it took only one hour for the Salafis to become the masters of the situation, after having bypassed the barbed wire and progressively approached the embassy's premises...

"Lastly, with a movement that caused great confusion and panic, things rapidly worsened and rocks and Molotov cocktails were thrown [by attackers, and police responded with] rubber bullets and tear gas canisters… Thereafter, clouds of dense smoke announced that [the embassy's] premises were on fire. Despite the important reinforcements from the police and from the army, demonstrators were able to get inside the embassy, to lower the American flag and to replace it with their black and white banner, symbol of radical Islamists.

"It is curious to note – and this was clearly visible during the retransmission of the live broadcasts – that one of the bearded chiefs of the attackers had a 'gestural discussion' with the Salafis, asking them to withdraw and to stop the clashes against the security forces. Afterwards, he turned towards a police officer to signal that the attackers were going to stop throwing stones and that, in return, security forces should stop shooting, thus giving the Salafis a chance to leave the area without being hurt.

"Another salient fact is that Salafis attacked the representatives of, and damaged the equipment of, the various national media, except for the Al-Jazeera representatives in Tunis who, in an effort to exculpate the bearded ones [i.e. the Salafists], gave an extravagant version of the events. According to [the Al-Jazeera correspondent], it was not the Salafis who invaded the embassy, but some intruders (moudassines). This is what Salafi officials declared to him, claiming that no members of their movements were among the attackers, who consisted solely of young people in their 20s. So how can it be explained that all those killed, wounded, or arrested were Salafis?...[7]

"Another movie damaging the image of the Prophet was just filmed in Tunis"[8]

"In any case, the damage has already been done, and Tunisia's image has been strongly tarnished also, in consideration of the fact that it was only at 7:00 pm that government officials came out of their 'hideout' and gave a version of these sad events and expressed an official position.

"Apart from a communiqué from the presidency of the government, mentioning the [concern] of [Tunisian Prime Minister] Hamadi Jebali, who interrupted his holidays, and a press release from the Tunisian News Agency (TAP), which branded the attack on the U.S. Embassy 'illicit and illegal' (these two reactions being banal and ordinary), it was only at 7:00 PM that Rached Ghannouchi began appearing on the various radio and TV stations. And it was only at 8:00 PM that [Interior Ministry spokesman] Khaled Tarrouche spoke on behalf of his ministry. Not only that, the mobile phones of the various members of the government were kept turned off for the whole afternoon and early evening."

"How Can The Silence Of The Government Be Explained?"

"A revealing reflection was expressed by Sheikh Rached Ghannouchi, who, using inverted logic, attributed the responsibility for the dramatic events to 'security forces, who were unable to protect the rally, also considered that this [demonstration] had been planned many days previously.'

"But the Al-Nadha leader forgot that this demonstration had not been authorized at all, and thus was was illegal. The security forces' inability to control a few hundred demonstrators is amazing, considering that they had been able to 'magnificently' repress nearly 10,000 people on April 9, 2012 in the center of the capital. [9]

"Once again, we must ask some important questions: How can we explain this stinging failure of the police and of the army to [protect] an embassy, when an attack had been planned days previously by the Salafis? How can the government's silence be explained?

"Without any doubt, after this September 14 afternoon, rivers of ink will flow, and Tunisia will experience certain and negative repercussions."


[1] Kapitalis (Tunisia), September 21, 2012

[2] Image source: Tel Quel (Morocco)

[3] Moncef Marzouki is the interim Tunisian president and leader of the Congress for the Republic (CPR), a center-left secular party.

[4] Image source: AFP/Fethi Belaid

[5] Image source:

[6] The Constitutional Democratic Rally, also referred to by its French acronym RCD, was the ruling party in Tunisia from its formation in 1988 until it was overthrown and dissolved in 2011 with the Tunisian Jasmine Revolution.

[7] Four were killed and 49 wounded during the demonstration by Salafis outside the U.S. Embassy in Tunis.

[8] Cartoon by known Tunisian cartoonist "Z." Image source: DEBATunisie (Tunisia), September 16, 2012.

[9] On April 9, 2012, Tunisian police put down a peaceful Martyrs Day demonstration held by the civil society; see

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