TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — After attacks by religious extremists, the assassination of an opposition politician and the resignation of the prime minister, Tunisia is now being assailed by… an Internet dance craze.
The YouTube phenomenon of the “Harlem Shake” has popped up in spots all over the world, but in Tunisia it’s more than just a curiosity or a fad — it has become part of a bitter rivalry between the secularists and Islamists striving to shape the identity of this North African nation as it transitions to democracy after years of dictatorship.
Videos posted by Tunisian students have provoked a violent backlash by conservative Muslims, condemnations from the education minister and hundreds of new copycat videos online.
The global Internet sensation involves a 30-second video showing first one person dancing, than dozens gyrating maniacally to the song “Harlem Shake,” recorded by Brooklyn disc jockey and producer Baauer. Thousands of new videos of everyone from Norwegian soldiers to Australian teenagers and now Tunisian students doing the “Harlem Shake” are now online.
Students in the U.S. have been suspended for recording the videos, and the American Federal Aviation Authority launched an investigation on Feb. 28 after one video was recorded on a flight from Colorado Springs. In Egypt, activists performed the dance in front of the offices of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo, coupled with chants of “leave, leave.”
In Tunisia, the “Harlem Shake” craze comes just over two years since a revolution overthrew a repressive secular dictatorship and ushered in new freedoms, including for religious ultraconservatives known as Salafis who are eager to impose their will — even violently at times. Salafis are suspected in the killing of leftist opposition leader Chokri Belaid, an assassination that triggered the resignation of Tunisia’s prime minister earlier this year.
Tunisia’s experience with the video began with a group of students at Tunis’ El Menzah high school producing their own version, which then spawned a host of copycat videos all over the country.
In the El Menzah high school video, a single student dances to the song, quietly watched by others until the halfway point; then the video cuts to a whole slew of students, some in their underwear, some dressed as bearded Salafis, and some as Gulf emirs flailing around.