September 5, 2008 / 3:13 PM / 11 years ago

Tunisia gets religious TV amid Islamist concern

By Sonia Ounissi

TUNIS, Sept 5 (Reuters) - Tunisia’s first religious television channel has begun broadcasting, with the blessing of a government keen to ensure growing religious devotion does not fuel the rise of militant Islam.

Hannibal Elferdaws (Hannibal Paradise) is the latest project of local businessman Larbi Nasra, who founded Tunisia’s first private TV channel Hannibal in 2005. It began broadcasting this week, the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

It offers a mix of programmes about the Koran, accounts of the life of the Prophet Mohammed and Koranic readings.

“Its programmes will stress tolerance, humility and good manners, denouncing bad ones and violence,” TV officials said in a statement, adding that it would show “the noble value of Islam.”

State channels have long dominated North Africa’s airwaves but Gulf-based satellite news channels such as Al Jazeera have captured viewers from Libya to Mauritania by offering a livelier, more irreverent slant on events.

Some of those channels have also given more of a window to Islamist groups.

Tunisian President Ben Ali wants to discourage militant Islam in a country where disaffection among youths and high unemployment have encouraged many to turn more towards religion.

A Tunisian political analyst who asked not to be named said the new channel was a step “to cope with the challenge of the Arabic satellite TV channels which broadcast programmes showing radical religion and inciting extremism.”

Apart from a truck bomb attack on a synagogue that killed 21 people in 2002, Tunisia has been spared the bombings that have afflicted its Maghreb neighbours Algeria and Morocco.

But its reputation as a quiet seaside holiday destination took a new jolt at turn of 2007 when radical Salafist Islamists exchanged gunfire with security forces in a Tunis suburb.

The Hannibal stations are named after the legendary Carthaginian warrior born in modern-day Tunisia.

(Editing by Tom Pfeiffer and Matthew Tostevin)

((maghreb.newsroom@thomsonreuters.com; Tunis newsroom, +216-71 787538, fax +216-71 787454)) Keywords: RELIGION TUNISIA/TV

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