Thanks Arab Spring!

TUNIS – With sparkling eyes and religious proverbs, Adel Al Awany describes the night-time patrols that the local chapter of the hardline Islamist Ansar Al Sharia group has been conducting in a suburb south of the Tunisian capital.

Loaded into ten cars and several scooters, the men toured Al Zahra and several poorer neighbourhoods on Friday and Saturday night, watching for crime. They were easily recognisable to the locals, not just because of their thick beards but because they wore jackets, emblazoned with the Ansar Al Sharia logo.

“Ansar Al Sharia are providing patrols for free just because it’s what Islam calls for,” said Mr Al Awany.

During almost of a week of political upheaval and demonstrations since the assassination of a secular opponent of the Islamist-led government last week, local branches of Ansar Al Sharia and a loose national grouping known as the Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution have started patrolling. While the move has been welcomed by some, others see it as a dangerous undermining of security institutions.

In the Wardieh suburb of the capital, Hisham Kenno, a leading member of the Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution, said his group has been patrolling the area, carrying sticks, over the last week.

The Leagues, he said, began as neighbourhood protection squads after police fled during the uprisings two years ago when Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ejected after a public uprising. Now, they have evolved into a politically active organisation with about 160 loosely affiliated branches across the country. They are officially recognised by the government and Seyyed Ferjani, a senior member of Ennahda, the ruling party of moderate Islamists, recently described them as being akin to NGOs.

Keep reading…