For the past few days or so, many Tunisians have been taking to the streets once again in protest of pan-Maghreb Nessma TV’s airing of the critically acclaimed Iranian film Persepolis. The film, an animated one, expresses dismay and is indeed protesting the confiscation of the Iranian revolution by hardline Islamists in 1979. What’s the problem, you ask? The film contains a scene that, only a few seconds long, shows a young Marjane (the film’s main character) engaging in an imaginary conversation with God. The personification, characterization, or manifestation of God in any visual form is, as is well known, prohibited in Islam – and many other faiths at that. Thus, those protesting are vexed and offended that Nessma TV screened such a disrespectful film. They are demanding that the government shut down the channel’s headquarters, effectively ceasing the channel’s operations. Nabil Karoui, the channel’s owner, has issued a public apology on Tuesday that was broadcast on national TV last night. Yet the protests continue – latest we’ve heard, some even attempted burning Karoui’s house down.
While I have never been particularly fond of Nessma TV, the chronological alignment of events is in no way coincidental. The constituent assembly elections are only a few days away – Tunisians living within the country’s borders are set to vote on October 23rd, and those abroad will vote October 20nd through the 22nd. Keep in mind, television campaigning is (as of now) still prohibited by the Independent High Authority for the Elections (ISIE) – so Nessma screening Persepolis could be understood as a clever way to campaign against Ennahda – which, by the way, has publicly denied any links with the protests. Make no mistake about it, both sides of this ideological secularist-Islamist ‘divide’ (which is a source of frustration in its own right) are in some way at fault. Some secularists in the country have taken it upon themselves to spew fear-based video advertisements warning the population of the perils associated with a possible Islamist win. Some Islamists, on the other hand, have also been gravely overreacting to this Nessma TV stuff – how does it make sense to shut down a channel just because you disagree with what it airs? Isn’t that what Ben Ali did? Some ask, “Could this mark the beginning of a legitimate counterrevolution?”
The answer is no, it does not. What I think? Some small forces are at play here, helping instigate the masses. Truth is, the vestiges of the old regime are a much bigger threat to the country’s stability than Ennahda. Several small parties have been formed by those in the former Ben Ali regime – and many more unique individuals are operating within the burgeoning electoral architecture covertly.
Yet, I still have full faith that the elections will go as planned, on time, and smoothly. The ISIE estimates that 3.4 million Tunisians will come out on election day – 75.5% of possible voters. While the strength and organizational competence of Ennahda is threatening some, the people will still come out and have its voice heard.
Here’s to the 23rd.