Djerba, Tunisia – In the year following political upheaval in this North African nation, many viewed the annual Djerba pilgrimage as a litmus test of the new government’s ability to provide security for a Jewish community that has lived in the area for millennia.
The moderate Islamist Ennahdha ruling party has been trying to dispel fears that its policies would cause problems for secular Tunisians, religious minorities and women.
Earlier in 2012, several incidents highlighted what is often depicted as an increased threat from ultra-conservative Muslims to the local Jewish population. During an event where Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh was welcomed at Tunis Carthage Airport, people reportedly chanted slogans such as: “Expel the Jews. It’s our religious duty.”
While Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of Ennahdha, has condemned the anti-Jewish outbursts as unrepresentative of his party, many critics have said he did not go far enough.
A Salafi rally in the capital in March calling for an Islamic state also featured similar comments about the religious minority. Weeks later, President Moncef Marzouki visited the pilgrimage site in the run-up to the event to commemorate the victims of an al-Qaeda-inspired suicide bomb attack that killed 21 people, mostly German tourists, in 2002.
The event in Djerba occurred this year without any security problems. While far fewer pilgrims came than in 2010, many saw the holiday gathering as a success, after it was called off last year, following the ousting of former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.