A rustic theatre where performers wear masks carved from cactus aims to win over young Tunisians in a long neglected mountain district that has become a cradle of jihadism.
Welcome to the “Jabal (mountain) Theatre” of music and dance on an open-air stage flattened from bare earth on Mount Sammama, in a range of hills that is a favoured hideout of loyalists of Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group.
Since its 2011 revolution, Tunisia, birthplace of the Arab Spring, has faced jihadist attacks that have killed more than 100 security force personnel as well as 59 foreign tourists and 20 Tunisian civilians.
The Kasserine region in which Mount Sammama lies is one of Tunisia’s remotest and most neglected, and its poverty has fanned extremism.
Adnen Felali, a 42-year-old teacher, is determined to use traditional culture and drama to combat the appeal of jihadist ideology.
“Our project, the Jabal Theatre, targets primarily children, the future of our country,” he said.
“We want to teach them that the mountains are a place of creativity, of poetry, of beauty, and in no way a place to breed the culture of death.”
The concept of his rural theatre was born two years ago and has had to overcome scepticism from all sides, especially in the absence of any support from the state.
But despite its humble setting and facilities, Felali is aiming high, with the ambition of “eradicating extremism through culture and human understanding”.
The extremists may be lurking just “200 metres (yards) away with their bombs and guns, but we reject their catastrophic presence alongside us because for us the mountain is where we live”, he said.
With a winter chill setting in, hundreds of schoolchildren attended a four-hour festival of bedouin music and dance, a break with the harshness of everyday reality.