Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed Friday revoked his Minister of Religious affairs, Abdeljalil Ben Salem, after the official chided Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism for being source of terrorism expansion in the world.
Nobody messes up with Tunisia’s diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia. That was the Prime Minister’s message to Abdeljalil Ben Salem.
A statement from Chahed’s office said the religious affairs minister’s remarks have distorted Tunisia’s diplomacy basics and principles.
Ben Salem angered the Prime Minister when he pointed out during a hearing at parliament Thursday that he was the only one who courageously asked the Saudi ambassador and another Saudi official “to reform their country’s schools because they are the cradle of terrorism.”
For the minister “takfir” – calling non-Muslims unbelievers- originates from Wahhabism schools. He further noted that terrorism and extremism one way or the other have originated from the Saudi Wahhabism school.
Ben Salem was appointed minister late August after Chahed was sworn in as new Premier.
The anti-Saudi comments sparked outrage among Tunisian politicians who fear that these remarks will trigger diplomatic crises for Tunisia. Apart from accusing Saudi Arabia for backing terrorism, the religious affairs minister also lambasted France.
Ben Salem also raised eyebrows after he indicated during the hearing that he asked political parties to field names for imams’ appointments after his ministry failed to receive applications for the religious positions but never received feedbacks.
Politicians deemed the minister’s request awkward as the presence of political parties in mosques would be dangerous for the country and put imams’ required neutrality on the line.
Few hours after the controversial comments, the religious affairs ministry posted a statement on facebook attempting to sooth tensions. It said that diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia were harmonious and that the ministry respects all Islamic branches.