Manama: Tunisia has banned students wearing niqab, the full face veil, from sitting for the baccalaureate exams.

The end of high school tests are scheduled for next week, but the education ministry said that no girl wearing the niqab would be allowed to enter the examination centres or halls.

“One of the conditions to sit for the exams is not to cover the face,” the ministry said. “Those who do not comply will not be allowed in the exam centre.”

The ministry attributed the decision to ensuring there is no deception or cheating during the annual exams that usually last one week, Assabah site has reported.

Girls make up 57.06 per cent of the 129,181 students who will take the Baccalaureate exams in June.

The exams, modelled after the French education system, crown 13 years of elementary, intermediate and high school studies.

Tunisia, a former French colony with a long history of tolerance, has one of the most liberal societies in the Arab world, but the toppling of the regime of former president Zine Al Abidine Bin Ali in January 2011 and the relaxation of the police state have allowed the emergence of a strong Salafist movement that has been pushing for women wearing niqabs, the face veil that was banned in 1981.

In January, the college of arts at the University of Manouba in the suburbs of the capital Tunis was the scene of clashes between Salafis and liberal students following the imposition by the university in November of a ban on wearing the niqab.

The university cited security concerns, but the ultraconservative students rejected the arguments and five students staged a hunger strike to force the university to lift the ban.

Tensions started at the beginning of the academic year in October when Islamists stormed the university after it refused to enrol a niqab-wearing student.