Crushing spirits: Tunisian rioters demand liquor shop closure
Protesters have taken to the streets of an eastern Tunisian town to demand the closure of a controversial liquor shop in the latest anti-alcohol riots in the north African country.
The demonstrators in El-Djem blocked the railroad to the capital on Tuesday evening, burning tyres and throwing rocks at police who dispersed the crowd with tear gas and made arrests.
"Residents of Djem have long been unhappy with the liquor store because they linked it to anti-social behaviour going on around the shop, prompting them to demand its closure," local activist and blogger Khaled Haj told The New Arab.
"There have been many false accusations made regarding this case such as that the shop was only licensed to sell food and that black market alcohol dealers were the ones behind the demands for its closure because of losing business," Haj said.
He stressed that locals were behind the calls to close the shop, adding: "Many businessmen have tried to obtain liquor licences in the past and failed, leading some to believe that this shop obtained its licence through a corrupt deal."
|Tunisia has no restrictions on alcohol and it is
freely available in restaurants, bars and shops [Getty]
Authorities first closed the controversial shop in the summer of 2015 after similar protests broke out in the tourist town famous for its Roman amphitheatre, local news outlet Kapitalis reported.
Months later a court ruled its closure was illegal and the shop was reopened to the ire of Djem residents, sparking street protests in January 2016 and calls from a local imam in August 2016 to burn down the shop.
Lawmaker representing the Islamist Ennahda party, Leila Oueslati Bousalah, told The New Arab that locals have revolted after running out of other options to express their outrage.
"They have presented a petition signed by some 4,000 people and 35 civil associations and political parties have issued statements condemning the reopening the shop and suspicious circumstances surrounding its liquor licence," Bousalah said.
"This will not end after the protests stop and the shop is closed. There will be an investigation into who granted the licence," she added.
Several Muslim-majority countries have laws banning or restricting the consumption of alcohol because of Islamic rulings regarding intoxication.
Tunisia has no such restrictions and alcohol is freely available in restaurants, bars and shops, however, in the years after the 2010 uprising opposition to alcohol has been growing among ultra-orthodox Muslims.
In May 2012, hundreds of Salafi Islamists attacked bars and clashed with police in the northwestern town of Jendouba.
Earlier this month, Tunisian authorities eased regulations on cannabis use, allowing Tunisians convicted of consuming the psychoactive plant to avoid prison if it is their first offence.
The north African country has faced mounting calls from rights groups to reform a law that jails youths for a year for smoking cannabis.