Tag Archives: mena

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

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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.

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Response to Jadaliyya’s “Tradition and the Anti-Politics Machine,” article re: DAM’s new video

Tonight, I came across this article by Lila Abu Lughod and Maya Mikdashi on Jadaliyya. It is entitled, “Tradition and the Anti-Politics Machine: DAM Seduced by the ‘Honor Crime.'” The article expresses disappointment with DAM’s latest video condemning honor killings. I would advise the reader to read the Jadaliyya article and watch the video prior to reading my response.

I was excited to read an article from two of my favorite Arab scholars. Yet, slowly – I couldn’t help but disagree with almost every claim made in the article, and reject nearly all premises that their arguments were founded upon. Below is a point by point summary of my thoughts. Excuse the poor grammar and writing style, I really was writing in a hurry.

…not freedom from the state or from the violence of settler colonialism that shape her community, but freedom from her family’s decisions about her marriage.

Yes. Freedom from her family’s decisions – true, real freedom starts in the household. If we cannot achieve that first, what makes us think that we can attain freedom from anything else? We live in ecosystems, and the ecosystem closest to us is that of the household. It affects us in the most direct manner. Yes, she protests and fights this type of ignorance first – it is only then that she can partake in broader struggles healthily and fully.

…Young Palestinian women do all of these, every day, in particular places, under specific historical conditions.

In producing this video, I don’t think DAM’s goal is to highlight (the very admirable, strong) women of Palestine. Rather, they were shedding light on a very important issue that some women suffer. Further – the video is about violence against women, not settler colonialism. You can only address so much in 4 minutes.

…What solution is this?

The scene represented a “heaven” of sorts where women who suffered domestic violence, or who died because of an honor killing, go. Not a solution. I think the purpose of this scene is to bring some sort of comfort to the woman who was killed. As in – “Many women suffered your fate.” This is what these women would have liked to be, see, or do in their living days. But instead, they all ended up dying because their father/brother/uncle/cousin killed them.

DAM ignores the committed Palestinian feminist activists who have been working for decades on the various forms of violence Palestinian women suffer.

Dude, really? How? How can the (+) positive addition of one video condemning violence to a wealth of activist expressions against violence insinuate an ignorance of all other efforts? This statement is so unfair.

They have been analyzing what comes together to produce familial violence: economic strangulation; the frustration of occupation and unemployment; the militarization of society; the physical barriers that disrupt movement and police life; the lack of legitimacy of laws and authorities.

Sure. But have all those things ALWAYS existed? Honor killings have been happening for quite some time all over the world. I think of all the factors listed above, the following holds the most merit: lack of legitimate laws and authorities. This factor holds true across several generations and political atmospheres.

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The Libyan revolution and the impact on the American – arguably far – left (Part Two)

“It is a stolen revolution – if you can even call it a revolution.”

The claim that NATO’s intervention in Libya has somehow tainted the Libyans’ quest for human rights has been addressed already. By using the term stolen, we are attributing all credit to NATO: even when the credit is intended to ostracize Western powers, we are in effect stealing the Libyans’ genuine effort and attributing it to NATO. When the protestors of Syria, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Bahrain are all cheering on the Libyan revolutionaries, such a claim adopts a human dimension that introduces the collective hopes and desires of a people thirsty for freedom that is difficult to ignore. Yet my fear is that this twisted narrative has a real capacity to grow, especially in progressive circles in the Global North. In the US, some of the Arab peoples’ closest allies have chosen to spew this rhetoric. The theory is admittedly tempting – which increases my worries for the quality of future interaction between post-war Libya and the US left.

By and large, the Tunisian and Egyptian revolts have been internalized as peaceful protests that have only encountered violence from their respective former state apparatuses. From what I’ve remarked, this seems to particularly earn the respect of American leftists as more “pure.” Libya, on the other hand, been forced to form its own “rebel” armed units to counter the thousands of mercenary brigades that Gaddafi was bringing in from other African nations, amongst other reasons. Due to the indiscriminate killing that Gaddafi’s state pursued, the people also needed additional protection and armed support and called for the help of many (not just NATO). We should recall that the earliest form of intervention in Libya in regards to the revolts has kicked off with the Arab League asking the UN Security Council to pass a resolution authorizing other countries to protect the civilian population. It is unlike anything that occurred in Tunisia or Egypt. The US progressive community is very aware and sensitive to any forms of foreign intervention and is alert in perceiving signs of neo-colonialism (and rightly so) – thus comes the increased focused on the intervention. I fear that Libya will be start to be institutionally categorized as an exception to the triumphs of the Arab Awakening by those who would typically be considered its staunchest allies. Some elements of the Libyan case simply do not fit the US political-left schema, and I am seeing that for many, it is difficult to reconcile the elements.

This has some very real implications for the way the US provides support to a nascent Libya and MENA in general. On an internal level, we may start seeing levels of support divided along political left-center-right cleavages. Or it may remain contained as a division amongst the left. In either scenario, there is the possibility that Libya will be alienated by some of those who are most able to help. A practical example of this fear is the US Congress voting on an aid package to Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. Some strong liberals may get carried away in this narrative’s illusion and oppose sending any aid to Libya. Obviously this is an extreme example (I heavily doubt we have that strong of liberals in our current Congress) – but it gets the point across.

Most importantly in the way the Libyan regime’s fall is perceived is how some theory might spill over onto the rest of the Arab world’s revolts. By possibly harming the Libyan revolutions reputation, there is the possibility that Tunisia and Egypt’s revolutionary progress will also be impacted. It may also impact Yemen and Syria – in fact, it already is influencing a lot of the rhetoric surrounding the Syrian revolts. “How come NATO is not intervening in Syria?” I can say this much: it is not due to any lack of – economic but especially political – interest in the region. There is much of that in Syria.

This intersection between pro/anti revolution and pro/anti international intervention is a very interesting one that simply does not fit into any traditional narratives It is, I believe, creating a new political outlook both in the Global North and in MENA that is bound by different priorities and desires…