Watching Brooklyn in San Francisco


I stepped out of the theatre and called a Lyft. “You speak Arabic?” was the first question my driver asked me. He was Moroccan; been living in the city for two years he said. “I had the best days of my life in Tunisia; my ex-girlfriend was from there, and I am still in love with her.” He told me all about her, and asked me not to speak in my Tunisian dialect so much because it reminds him of her. We spoke about the bled (in French) and what it meant to us. Excited conversation was followed by a pregnant silence: you know, the kind where you realize that too much had been said but that it was all too sincere. About a minute passed before he finally said, “But I will go back to Casablanca of course. I have no business here. I have a huge house there — you know it cost me about a million dollars to build. It’s home for me.” I tell him I understand the sentiment well, and he continues: “Plus, my mother lives there and I am her only child. I must go back, it’s unfair to either of us to be so far apart.”


In the film Brooklyn, Eilis’s relationship with her mother is what weighs the most in her attachment to her homeland, Ireland. Following Eilis’s sister’s death, the mother finds herself alone — the house is empty and her last remaining relative is across the Atlantic. Eilis visits Ireland to grieve her sister’s passing, and is tempted to stay — if only to keep her mother company at such old age. After all, her sister’s death took a toll on her, too. In the film, we witness the gut-wrenching moment of Eilis realizing that she cannot attend her sister’s funeral service because it is too arduous and long of a journey to make it before the sister is laid to rest.

I’ve been there myself. My grief was multiplied when I found out that I was unable to go to Tunisia for my grandmother’s funeral. She was my shining light and my closest relative. Being incapable of seeing her one last time — unable to bid her farewell and honor her presence in my life — still remains a seemingly insurmountable source of pain. When Eilis visits her sister’s grave, she tells her: “I cannot believe that I’m married to someone you’ll never know.” We are unable to reconcile facing such grave finality with the glistening novelties life offers us. They will never know.


Yet it is those very same emotional ties that push Eilis back to New York. She sails back to New York because her heart pulled her back. Eilis began creating something new for herself there, and she must continue building on it. Complicating matters is her marriage to Tony, the Italian-American she met in Brooklyn. She fell in love, and she decided that she couldn’t leave the dream they are pursuing behind.

The film cuts right into the heart of transatlantic senses of belonging and love (and how they overlap). It demonstrates the confusions we are confronted with when experiencing love that is mired with arbitrary geography that is still bigger than us. A heart that feels home here, and there. Brooklyn narrates the necessity of embracing the inevitable when crossing that ocean. It is a human story about, as the Lyft driver describes it, the unfairness of being torn apart between two homes.

Such a humanizing film on the immigrant experience could not have been any timelier.

How the Tunisian Electoral Authority Robbed Me of the Right to Vote

Nidaa Tounes party wins Tunisia parliamentary elections

Chafik Sarsar, the head of the Tunisian electoral authority (ISIE)

It all started when I initially registered myself to vote in the 2014 legislative elections in New York City. I live in Denver, so I figured it is the best office to vote in since I can usually find pretty cheap air tickets to the Big Apple. Besides, I have a few friends there I could always say hello to – never mind that it is close to 1,800 miles away from where I live. Thing is, it was still too expensive to travel.

The electoral commission offered all residents living and voting abroad the option to change their voting locations. The process was simple enough: send in a copy of your passport, a confirmation of your initial registration, and fill out a PDF form that the ISIE provides. Send it in to your regional representatives, and they will send them back to Tunisia for the ISIE to review. Still with me? Alright. Since I would be visiting The Hague, Netherlands, during the presidential elections (21-23 November), I decided to change my voting location to that office.

I sent in all required documentations. Mind you – all North and South American cities and ‘rest of Europe’ voting locations are part of the same voting district. Districts for Tunisians living abroad are as follows: France 1, France 2, Germany, Italy, Arab world countries, and Americas and rest of Europe. In theory, since you are still within the same district, you should be able to vote in any voting location within it, correct? No. Not according to the electoral authority. For the legislative elections, the ISIE made everyone re-register in order to vote, and if you chose New York (or Houston, or Vienna, or whichever city in the same district): you best believe that that is where you will vote. It is like telling someone: hey sorry, I know you’re still within X county, but you must go to that school (miles away) in order to vote.

Moving on. I submitted all of my documentation to the regional office, and they courteously responded to me confirming that my folder had all the required paperwork and that it was complete. They would then send it to the main authority in Tunis, and wait to hear back.

Tonight, the ISIE released the names of those ‘selected’ to vote. My name was not on there – and neither were the names of many, many others in my district who had requested the change. In the Montreal office, only 3 people were accommodated. THREE. We were not given any reason or justification as to why we were not selected.

To say I feel furious is really an understatement. I am a full Tunisian citizen who has yet to vote even once because of (you guessed it) incompetence coming from the electoral authority. I was so excited to finally be voting for the first time, to be exercising the most fundamental of my rights. But the ISIE decided that it could arbitrarily choose who can vote and who cannot. It decided that it has the power to rob citizens of their rights.

The regional representatives did not have much to say but remind those rejected that it is ‘up to the ISIE’ to decide whose request can be accommodated. The photo below quotes: “The fact that your folder is complete does not guarantee an acceptance from ISIE. Almost every day we have published on our page that it is solely ISIE than can or cannot accept the request. We understand your frustration, but we unfortunately have no further answers than you do.”

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 8.17.44 PM

Something tells me that politics have to do with it. Though I do not know for certain whether my application was rejected based on political views, I do know this:

  • The ISIE has made it very difficult for Tunisians abroad to practice their right to vote
  • Many instances have been reported where, during the legislative elections, certain individuals would suddenly not find their names in the offices they are registered in (thus, rendering them unable to vote)
  • Some instances have been reported of bureau members convincing their friends (usually with the same political convictions) to go vote, and fill up the booths for the legislative elections

The parliamentary elections were bad enough – extreme disorganization in the offices abroad reigned supreme. Now, the presidential elections will be even worse.

The saddest part is that I have not felt this angry at my country since the times of Ben Ali. Those were the times I felt like my country was constantly rejecting me, making me a second-class citizen every time I tried to open my mouth about this or that, or tried to exercise very basic rights and duties. Today, I feel the very same way.

I feel injustice, and I feel robbed.

I call on the judicial authorities in Tunisia to initiate an investigation and find answers to the following question: under what basis were Tunisian citizens forfeited their right to vote? Why were the location change requests denied? And under what basis? 

anouar brahem and late night thoughts from 2012.

february 6, 2012, 23:23


love [romantic] is the last thing on my mind right now. i dont feel like i can really, truly, give anyone my all. i am too consumed with what is happening in this country. i am too consumed with giving my all to help it succeed. i am trying my absolute best to leave politics out of this entry. you have no idea how difficult it is. essentially though, i am a little bit ‘off’ in terms of my writing tonight. so many times i feel like just pulling out a pen and paper and writing my thoughts down. but its so difficult to do that here without getting stares left and right. then you don’t want to open up your bag on the metro ride, because you might get it snatched. afin de compte, each time i decide to sit down and make the time to write, i find nothing to write about. its a dilemma really that happens to me quite frequently. i do, however, know that i have a solid interest in documenting my life here in tunis. so i will tell you what i plan on doing with my day tomorrow, so that you have a small glimpse.

tomorrow, i should be waking up at around 8am, and if all goes to plan, head to the flea market a few blocks away. i am looking for a nice skirt or a funky dress. following my little flea market expedition, i should be heading straight to bardo (not sure whether by metro or taxi – ill figure it out). i will be meeting with sami hicheri, a member of the opengov initiative i have recently become involved in. we should be having some sort of coffee then making our way over to the constituent assembly. we will be meeting with some parliament members (around 7 of them) to discuss the concept of opengov with them. after that, i plan on having lunch with a friend. then i should be going home.

im listening to anouar brahem and his music is fatally inspirational. when i listen to it, i feel like i just want to sing. i just want to write. to laugh. to create. and only create under a tunisian sun. “ritek ma na3ref ween,” just came on. the anouar instrumental version. what passion, what beauty! the music skips around like a young child at play. the notes. the boy, barefoot and dressed in clothes that have a few holes in them, kicks around a ball in a run down neighborhood. the sun is setting… and his hair reflects a reddish hue. he smiles.

i connect with this land so much. no words can even try to emulate the feeling i get just reflecting on this connection. i connect with the natural aspects of it. the colors. ah, the colors. the colors of a small road in downtown tunis. at the corner of your eyes, you see hues of white, grey, and blue. sometimes beige if you’re in the medina. straight ahead, you see people – which is where all the color is anyway. you see black (lots of black, especially in the winter), yellow, and bright bright [shameless] red from the men’s chechiyas (my favorite). i never want to leave!

at the same time though, i sometimes feel a bit lost. i have yet to catch on with the culture here, and when im honest with myself, i feel a bit naive. but im trying to, and i think i have made some progress. truly, i have. in any case, i am well-liked and well-received by near everyone here. i just feel like a little kid sometimes who is discovering her world for the first time. remember how i mentioned the colors? well, i feel like im learning to appreciate each color in its own right all over again. blue, for instance. there is turquoise, royal, aqua, etc. there’s also sidi bou said blue, raf raf’s sea blue, old plastic tables blue, and old tunisian man’s shirt blue (the kind with the buttons). you know what it is? at the end of the day, i simply flow well with the atmosphere here. my soul is more at ease with its surroundings. maybe that’s it exactly. my soul has discovered its friends and loved ones on this land – not in the states. the souls living in the soil there have so much negative energy its toxic (native american souls who have suffered infinitely at the hands of bloody massacres carried out in the name of supposedly ‘god-given’ rights to expand – they will never forgive – i walk around with the intrusive, painful thought that beneath the soil lie these souls). the foundation of the united states of america is toxic. tunisia does not share that history. it has had its fair share of wars in the past, yes, but after all – my loved ones are not colonials. you know what? forget all the political stuff. its very simple: i am finding myself to be near and close to those dear to my soul. i am near my grandfather(s). i am near my role models – st. augustine and farhat hached. i am near the soul of Olive, Eucalyptus, Orange. i am near the meditarreanean’s exhalations… near the whispers of running my hands through soil. i am under a sky that st. augustine lived under. i am here.

here. ive missed you so much, tunisia. so, so, so incredibly much.

i am here.

lost, loved, happy, but after all, present.

Scattered thoughts (and feelings) on Egypt


January 20, 2014

Shiddi halek ya balad.

How is it that Egypt’s soil had the power to produce such anguished, angered, empowered energy – yet lacks the power to produce the will to make? The will to construct?

I had just finished watching a film entitled, “A Winter of Discontent.” The film reminded me of the spirit that existed in 2011 after Ben Ali left Tunisia. For Egypt, the floodgates have opened and there was no turning back. You can see this clearly in the film, as this particular concept was appropriately conveyed. The last scene in the film foreshadowed Egypt’s reality today: the head of security went back to see his family, which he earlier sent to stay in a sea-side villa away from the demonstrations. He hugged his daughters, and the audience was taken right to the credits. This is what happened, isn’t it? Mubarak left office – but everything else stayed in place. The entire apparatus was touched, but unharmed – it was left standing.

Little do they know that Egypt’s people desire more than bread to eat and water to drink. They desire well-being, well-being that goes beyond the now somewhat clichéd terms of freedom and liberty. You know, the opaque, mysterious, undefined terms thrown around everywhere nowadays.

We live in an Arab world that is so chaotic, so disorganized, so counter-intuitive. And from the looks of it, it will get worse before it gets better. What do I know about Syria’s ruins? What do I know about the still repressive regime in Algeria? It really depresses me. I don’t even know what to say anymore. I just want to cry. We deserve so much more. I know we all have the smarts to help make things better, but everyone I know is leaving el balad. They’re all leaving Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia, Egypt… And Egypt. Oh Egypt. What a sad twist in history. How can we forget how it felt when it was announced that Mubarak would leave office? That joy was so unparalleled. Nothing can compare. I was all the way in San Diego and I felt every bit of it, watching from a laptop screen. The nights I stayed up just watching, waiting. My soul felt like it could jump through the monitor and just be there. It was momentous. No, momentous is not the word. Just epic. And not epic in the overused ways of our day, but momentously epic. Egypt, the largest country in the Arab world, had enough.

What now though? Did we naively think that we could actually change things? Or that those who held the reigns of power would ever let go? Oh goodness, I am on a plane and I just can’t stop crying. What is it? What are we missing? We succeeded in the first step – what’s next? What will happen next? Tunisia is a nice silver lining in many ways (who still has its host of problems), but the rest? What about Egypt? What about Syria? What should we do? Never have I questioned so much about the future. Of course, our countries will not magically “make themselves work.” It takes every one of us to make them work – but where do we start? Sure, we need to take things in our hands – and by the way I don’t just mean the youth or a certain segment of the populations. I mean everyone. We take things into our hands and change how it all works. However, in Egypt for example, there are very well defined structures of power. Some things people just cannot do. Unless people think they can.

I believe we may just need a psychological shift in what we think we can and can’t do.

Until that mental change, shiddi halek ya balad.

Why the world should listen up to Tunisia’s youth movement


It all started rather spontaneously – one of my friends, Bassem Bouguerra, posted a simple status on Facebook offering to serve in Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa’s new transitional government. He offered to do so for free, and only up to a year. Along with these few lines, he posted a short summary of his academic and professional experience, as well as a program of what he intends to do if selected to serve. Finally, he invited other young adults to do the same.

I followed suit, and a few of my other friends followed suit as well. What was one person became two, and five, and sixteen, and twenty, and now upwards of fifty. All posts showed great motivation, experience, and willingness. Most had graduate degrees (Master’s, PhD’s, JD’s). A Facebook page was created to compile all candidacies – aptly titled ‘7koumetna’ [Our government]. In a mere 24 hours, the page now has close to 10,000 ‘Likes.’

One might ponder: well, it’s all on Facebook – why does this matter anyway? We all know PM Jomaa probably won’t even look at the page, let alone consider appointing some of the individuals to serve in office. However, one should think twice before dismissing the page – and the movement (yes, movement) – so quickly.

We took to Facebook because it is, unfortunately, the Internet for many Tunisians. The social networking page is used to look up news, to see the government’s latest charades, and share jokes. It is, for better or for worse, a social network par excellence. Whatever is posted on Facebook will usually have at least some national buzz offline. But this isn’t why the youth movement is important in Tunisia.

These youth are volunteering their time and effort at a very fragile time for the country. Prior to this moment, so many of us gave up. So many of us thought, “That’s it. Ben Ali is gone, and now it’s time for the rest of them to have their piece of the pie.” We cannot be blamed for having such sentiments. We have seen countless ‘dialogues’ and only suffered as the promises made to us were broken. All of the candidates for prime minister in the national dialogue were upwards of the age of 50 (one was 92 years old. 92!).  We see that our country has the skill, the intelligence, and the energy to move forward – but we also see that nobody is taking the youth seriously. Instead, we have age-old enemies trying to achieve some sort of poetic justice. History tells us that the Tunisian Islamists, Marxists, and nationalists go ‘way back.’ They hated each other since the 1970s ‘in college’ (as my mother describes it). And now, they are fighting to the death for power and prestige in Tunisia’s new era of governance. That’s one side. The other side is the ‘fuloul’ of Ben Ali – the remnants of his regime. So there we have it. Two sides: former activists against the regime (who fight amongst one another other), and former supporters of Ben Ali.

This leaves the Tunisian people with very little hope to find any one party or individual to represent them and their ideas. Very little hope in trusting that any government will do anything to help move the country forward. I was one of these people – as I watched the parties fight amongst each other through the lagging negotiations, I felt that there was no hope. All they wanted was ‘el-kursi’ [the chair, a metaphorical term that means power].

What happens when you start to see fresh faces looking to serve their country – for free? It reinvigorates your spirit and revives that hope. It helps all of us realize that now, there is no way to go but forward. It brings up that feeling we first had when Ben Ali left, or when many of us voted for the first time. Sure, the feeling may be ephemeral, but it means something. It reminds us that not all hope is lost.

Last but not least, just earlier today I saw a headline in the Wall Street Journal reading, “Young Tunisians Embrace Jihad, Raise Tension at Home.” Highlighting youth in terrorism is hot in journalism, I get it. But how come I did not see one article highlighting this very positive development in Tunisia (besides Al-Jazeera and TunisiaLive)? An article that highlights the youth rising up to serve their country effectively, intelligently, temporarily and voluntarily.

In any case, people will believe whatever they want to believe. However, the whole world should be aware of 7koumetna – and should be aware that the revolution will be built by those who created it: the youth. It is our revolution, not theirs.

What the Tunisian government should learn from Egypt

ImageThe deposition of former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi: call it what you like – a popular uprising, a military coup, a continuation of the “Arab Spring”, or a hammer blow to democratic reform efforts. Whatever it was, Tunisia is certainly not immune to it. Tunisia’s transition is relatively more protected from such happenings, and the country as a whole has a bit more working for it in the long run (namely a smaller population, less geostrategic pressure, and a historically less politically involved military). However, Tunisian government officials must be keenly aware of what’s brewing beneath them as well as take careful notes on what just happened in Egypt.Whether it is ultimately for better or for worse, it will not take long for Egypt to see more tumultuous days ahead of it and more instability before any semblance of normalcy. The “Egypt scenario,” which may threaten the country’s transition as a whole, can be avoided. Roughly speaking, this is what the Tunisian government should work on to avoid such a scenario:

  1. Encourage and actively support political inclusiveness: the Tunisian government must make active efforts to incorporate the opposition in not only high-level decision making, but in the management of tasks and projects at each ministry. The opposition, too, must work to achieve this political plurality by opening up to collaboration and focusing on the various tasks at hand as opposed to political pretenses.
  2. Avoid regressing on freedom of expression: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion must be available to all. The quick, rash, and hasty trial that 25-year old rapper Weld el 15 underwent cannot be repeated again. Weld el 15, who was hastily sentenced to a 2-year prison sentence that was later reduced to a 6-month probationary term outside of prison, was faced with legal action because of a song entitled “Police are Dogs.” His trial, along with many other instances where the government tried to infringe upon this sacred freedom, mobilized many Tunisians. In some cases, the government retreats. However even when it does, it fails to defend freedom of expression. For example, even when Ennahda – the Islamist party that leads the government – issued a statement condemning the Egyptian military’s arrest of journalists, the party has avoided explicitly defending the freedom of expression. The point is that even if the government believes that a rapper, activist, journalist, filmmaker, etc, has infringed upon the country’s “moral code” (can’t help but roll my eyes here), due process must be followed and fundamental trial rights must be ensured for all defendants. Leading me to my next point…
  3. Redraft the legal code: the government and the assembly’s focus should not be limited to rewriting the constitution. In fact, the majority of Ben Ali’s transgressions did not occur through the constitution – most were executed legitimately through a very flawed legal framework that we have yet to pay much attention to. Did you know that rapping is technically a crime in Tunisia? Such penal codes must be critically looked at and redrafted to make sure that freedom of expression is not only enshrined in the country’s law of the land, but through the very minute workings of the rule of law.
  4. Create realistic employment schemes and strategies: talking about employment and the economy is never enough. We still see protests in Tunisia that decry the lack of employment generation resources such as, a) employment centers, b) public recruitment programs, and c) the active flow of business. Most importantly, it must drag the stalled economy out of crisis as soon as possible – sustainably and efficiently.
  5. Respond to and meet popular demands at all levels: we hear too much about ministerial brouhahas and “he said she said”s stuck around the top level of governance. Seldom, however, do we hear about what the government is doing to meet local demands through the country’s 24 governorates (states) and municipalities. Much of public criticism stems from the ever-present levels of corruption in the municipalities, and if the government, national assembly, and presidency, are at all serious about transitioning into democracy, their eyes must be fixed on the municipalities and reforming them from the bottom up. Too much is happening locally, and the demands resulting from these challenges are consistently ignored.

The Tunisian government is already facing tremendous public ire and disgruntlement, and it should really consider doing the above to not further sully its credentials. Most importantly though, the government should do the aforementioned to move the country forward. And that is in everyone’s interest.

Note: article originally posted on Nawaat.

April 9th, 1938: the struggle continues today.


It was 1938, and liberation from the French was no longer an ideal. It was no longer a dream chased in the shadows of our collective fantasy. Liberation became a goal that was to be pragmatically achieved.

The uprising that started in university hallways spilled onto the streets. The once hallowed hearts, downtrodden with the reality of colonialism, got back to beating in unison — pumping the blood of a whole country.

On April 9th, Tunisians of all backgrounds took to the streets. They were all Tunisian, all liberationist.

We agitated for self-rule. The chants defied expectations and defied predictions in the events that they foreshadowed. Power to Tunisians. Some banners read: We must have a Tunisian Parliament, and All for a national Tunisian government. 

They arrested us. Accused us of inciting civil war and racism. The ‘inferior race,’ as they called us, had no right to struggle for independence and self-determination. They imprisoned us. And on April 9th, they turned their guns on us and killed us.

The uprising was the spark that led to our independence from France, which came 18 years later in 1956.

The same chants used in 1938 came to define our modern history. Fast forward nearly a century later, and we did the very same thing — we fought the power. Only this time, it was against the colonizers from within.

Over the decades, April 9th has come to be celebrated as Martyr’s Day, a national holiday in Tunisia. To honor the uprising and commemorate our martyrs we traditionally stage demonstrations or rallies, which was exactly what we did last year.


On April 9, 2012, however, it was the forces of the new regime that shot at us with tear gas. The forces that we elected.

I participated in the protests myself. I took a cab downtown that day. The second I got out, I found myself in the heat of the commotion. A member of the security forces shot a tear gas canister my way. It flew right over my head. I ducked, dove, and my whole body hit the ground. I somehow managed to take a photo as I was falling. Nearby protestors ran towards me and helped me back up. Looking back today, it was all a blur. My injuries were light.


But I was lucky. Many protestors that day were severely injured, and the day is now remembered as a very dark one. The government called the protests “illegal.” It said we were disrupting the public order. We the demonstrators — not the savages who fired tear gas at us. Not the savages who used their batons against our bodies.

The national assembly promised a thorough investigation of all acts of violence against protestors. Months later, an investigatory commission was formed. As expected, nothing has come out of any said investigations, and the commission was a complete failure.

Most appalling is that martyrs’ families of the 2010-11 uprising have yet to be compensated, and the wounded and injured yet to be treated. Yes, our new government, our post-Ben Ali government, is ALSO ignoring and mistreating our martyrs.

This is all to remind us that the fight is not over. The framework that allowed repression to ferment decades ago still exists today. Security forces (colonial or otherwise) continue to exist in a universe of impunity. As long as we do not reform this framework, violence against peaceful demonstrators will always be renewed and those injured will always be ignored.

Let us remember and commemorate our martyrs: from 1938, 1956, 2010, and today. Our martyrs of all time. Let us remember them by making their voices heard and asserting our dignity. It’s not over. It’s not over.

Qabbani and South Lebanon

Mr. Qabbani seems to always have the right words. The literal translation of this particular verse into English would, I feel, reduce a nostalgic soul into dry words. But Nizar Qabbani here writes to one of his many muses – the southern Lebanese countryside, el-J’noub. He says here that el-J’noub became ‘his pens, his rose-colored folders’. It became his ‘secret Writing.’ El-J’noub witnessed major political upheaval and war over the years, but its golden hilltops and its peoples nuanced complexities have never failed to inspire a whole generation of authors and poets such as Nizar Qabbani. Below is a little visualization I made for the verse.

Happy Friday everyone!


Tunisia and the make-up of a crisis: burkas, children’s rights, and accented spoken Arabic

I am angry.

I am angry because I do not see my country moving forward. I see it going down a path of uncertainty, a path where my compatriots have forgotten where they come from. Today, I sat down for dinner with my parents. My mother made a delicious pasta and a salad to go along. We had water to drink. The television was set on the Tunisian national channel, blaring the nightly news broadcast. The first bit of news I hear is that the National Constituent Assembly is discussing legislation to protect children’s rights. Several representatives speak in favor of the legislation, and several against. The bloc leading the no vote is primarily composed of Ennahda members. When one of them was asked why he did not support the legislation, he said: “Next thing you know, we will be discussing el-zawaj el-mithli [gay marriage].” My dinner started getting cold, the salad less appetizing.

Next bit of news is about a Wahhabi sheikh from Kuwait, Nabil el-Awadi, who was invited by a Tunisian NGO to give a lecture. Amongst other things, he called for girls below the ages of puberty to start wearing complete veils. In honor of his visit, an event was organized where many little girls attended, accompanied with their parents. The little girls were all wearing burka-style veils in shades of neon pink, purple, green, and gray, that covered the entirety of their bodies. My heart breaks. I shake my head and look back at my dinner, desperately attempting to ignore the TV – I can feel the agony rising from my heart to my mind. Disgust. All I want to eat my dinner and go downstairs to read my constitutional law assignment. But near the corner of my eye still, I see a video montage of a group of the girls holding signs that read, “Hijabi… nouri… [My hijab is my light].” That’s it. Both the salad and pasta were now inedible. I head downstairs and tweet about what I just saw. I stumble upon a Facebook photo album of the event I mentioned above. After taking some close looks, I close the tab.

A few rounds of clicking later, I stumble upon a video of Tunisian Constituent Assembly member Selim Abdesselem giving a speech on the assembly floor. The video was put up in an effort to mock the assembly member’s accent when he speaks Arabic, and the obvious lack of properly accented grammar. Representative Abdessalem hails from the Tunisian community in France. He lived most of his life there, and in fact, he was elected to represent that very same community. In his speech, he spoke about the integral role of an independent judiciary that fairly defines the rule of law and facilitates justice. He argued that its independence is crucial and necessary to effect the purposes of justice. Even though his words will one day be remembered for generations to come in recognition of the country’s founding, nobody paid much attention to what he had to say. All they could do was mock his accent. At the expense of losing such substantial insight, those who made fun of him scarcely know anything at all about the judiciary. His story hits closer to home too – I have the very same problem Representative Abdesselem has. We read, write, and understand advanced technical Arabic. Yet we have trouble getting the tashkeel right (the accents on each letter) when we read classical Arabic out loud. Watching the video did it for me.

The social climate in Tunisia is deteriorating. Many people cannot even find a place to call home, a shelter. Many cannot afford to go to school. Many of the country’s youth remain unemployed (in fact the unemployment rate, according to several sources, has risen in the past year). The cost of living has gone up. For a few weeks, outrage was felt all over the country as many families could not even find a place to buy milk – since now, because of the lack of rule of law, many mafias and trade rings control the flow of certain nutritional products. These mostly economic troubles find their way into the Tunisian’s everyday psychology. People don’t smile at each other in the streets anymore. There is something that is called hiq’d [حقد] between people’s hearts. Hiq’d is a hidden enemity of sorts, an avarice. It’s the thought of hidden malice that looks for every opportunity to exact revenge on someone. Encountering such elemental challenges on a daily basis – not having enough food for the family, not feeling secure enough to go out at night, not trusting people – does this to our hearts. Hearts become hardened, and of course, many turn to more fundamentalist interpretations of Islam to cure this hardening of the heart. For a long time, this is what happened under Ben Ali’s rule. People could not breathe – economically, morally, politically – and so the popularity of satellite TV channels promulgated, including those channels that advocated for rather unsound spiritual practices and priorities (I remember watching a 90-mins long show on how evil and horrid nail polish is. Nail polish, people).

We see this same behavior taking place today. Tunisia has experienced a void in religious / spiritual education ever since President Bourguiba shut down the Zaitouna Institute – a nucleus of knowledge that fed the entire region (it is a well-established fact that Al-Azhar scholars went to school at Zaitouna). This thirst for knowledge, coupled with practical quotidian discomforts and uncertainties, incidentally leads to the likes of Nabil el-Awadi to develop a fan base in the country.

Today, we are confronting what we could credibly call a ‘crisis.’ An identity crisis, a socioeconomic crisis, and most of all, a daily, practical crisis.

Someone once told me that freedom lies in being bold. Let us be bold in acknowledging our weaknesses, and then let us be bold in assessing what we need to do to help make these weaknesses into strengths. We need education, and I cannot emphasize this enough. The whole educational system, from primary school to post-doctoral levels, must be reformed. We need employment. Sustainable energy is a great start that has the potential to generate jobs by the thousands. Most than anything else, however, we need to think before we act and be cognizant of the direction our dear country is heading in. If nothing is done, we might as well kiss our dream of democracy goodbye.

Issuing Deliverance – Women in Modern Times

(Warning: this is a rant. Nothing new in this post.)

The key distinction is the idea of issu-ING deliverance, for it has surely not been issued completely yet. When we look back on all that women have gone through – and I speak from the position of being a woman of color in the United States – we see that history has carried women on its ebb and flow, consistently carrying them through failures and gains. 

And we must acknowledge the gains, and honor the women and men that fought so hard for them. Women now can vote and are active members of society. It is generally well accepted that the female gender is and will always remain an important and entire one half of the population.

Yet, I feel fury at times because that as women, we still accept the fact that senile old men in richly decorated offices get to dictate what we do with our bodies. We still accept the fact that in some states, women have to pay higher insurance rates than men. We accept the fact that a woman’s decision to rear a child is not entirely in her hands. We accept the fact that Planned Parenthood is being cut left and right by our elected officials. We accept unequal pay based on gender. We accept the fact that our legislatures institutionalize policies that condemn us to being less than fully adult human beings.

We cannot accept this anymore, because the truth is, we have not been delivered. Deliverance has not been issued, and we are the only ones that can issue it.

We must be fearless.