Tag Archives: Tunis

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.”

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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? 

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

Constituent Assembly Debates Arab-Muslim Identity in Constitution

The drafting of Tunisia’s new constitution began today with discussion of what will be perhaps one of the most divisive issues in Tunisian politics: the constitutional definition of the country’s national identity.

The first article of Tunisia’s current constitution currently names the language of the country as Arabic and its religion as Islam. With an Islamist party, Ennahda, in power, the question is whether this will be enough to define the religious orientation of Tunisia’s juridical future.

Sadok Bel Aid, Former Dean of the Faculty of Law at the Free University of Tunis, and a specialist in constitutional law, believes that Ennahda has moderated its position with regards to the religious content of the preamble. While previously, according to Bel Aid, members had wished for a reference to an Islamic source for Tunisian law, the party seems to have reached a consensus now that some version of the current first article would be sufficient.

However, from the onset of the meeting it was clear that reaching agreement concerning Tunisia’s national identity would be no small task. Hajer Azaiez, the commission’s vice-rapporteur and a member from Ennahda, casually mentioned, “We are already all in agreement with Islam being the official religion, and Arabic the official language. Why don’t we discuss the rest of preamble?”

This statement received a quick response from Taher Hmila, a representative from the centrist Congress for the Republic (CPR) party, who replied, “No – we are not. We cannot do that. We, as a republic and state, cannot have an official religion. We want to be consistent with the republican form of government.”

Issam Chebbi, a representative from the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), later proposed including references to religion and language in the body of the constitution instead of the preamble or general principles. Maya Jeribi, secretary general of the PDP, agreed with Chebbi’s proposition.

The Congress for the Republic (CPR) party, which has formed an alliance with Ennahda and the center-left Ettakatol party, seemed to be in agreement that a reference to Islam within the opening clauses of the constitution was not a foregone conclusion.

Rafik Telili, a member of the CPR, argued that the preamble should affirm the state’s civic character. “We need to make it clear that minorities will be protected. We need to say that our relations with Jews, for example, are peaceful,” he said.

Another member from the CPR, Mabrouka Mbarek, suggested that the constitution use a declaration of human rights as the preamble’s point of reference instead of ‘Islamic values,’ since it would hold more collective weight. “The revolution was triggered because of socioeconomic constraints, not religious values. Freedom of religion is only one facet of their demands,” she said.

Bel Aid did not believe that foregoing any reference to religion in the preamble to Tunisia’s constitution was a plausible proposition in a country that is ninety-nine percent Sunni Muslim. However, he felt that the religious character of the definition could indeed be softened.

“I think we could have a reference that mentions religion in light of our history, a ‘light’ version of the formulation that wouldn’t erase it. You know, even in America, on the dollar bill you have ‘In God We Trust,” said Bel Aid.

While the preamble of a constitution has a largely symbolic value, it can set the tone and color of the document to follow. The preamble of France’s constitution, for example, makes reference to the 1789 “Declaration of the Rights of Man” and establishes the states as secular. In light of recent controversies in the country concerning secularism, such as the ban on the niqab (a full-body Islamic veil), that clause would seem significant.

“Preambles can have a certain ideological value, and a certain political value, but also a certain juridical value,” said Bel Aid. He explained that, if worded properly, preambles could be “creative” of principles to follow in the constitution and could act as a guide for future disputes concerning the document’s interpretation.

Tunisia a year later: misplaced priorities

Sure, it’s January 14th, 2012 – marking a year after Ben Ali’s departure from Tunisia. When he fled, most Tunisians were not sure whether they were witnessing reality or a mere passing dream. The ecstasy in the air was a collective one that united all Tunisians.

But in memory of this moment of ecstasy, Tunisians are celebrating separately. In La Chebba, a small city in the coastal state of Mahdia, two celebrations were taking place: supporters of the Islamist party Ennahda held celebrations at a local park, while supporters of left-wing parties (including Ettajdid, the Progressive Democratic Party, and the Tunisian Communist Party) held a march down Chebba’s main street. They chanted, “No America, no Qatar, Tunisia is free,” along with a dash of, “We say no to backwardness – no caliphate.” Now, while I agree wholeheartedly with the general message of non-intervention, I sometimes question why they think today of all days is a good day to spread it. All it takes is a glance over their shoulders to notice that the lady living down the street cannot afford to buy a bottle of gas to cook with. All it takes is a short walk across the street to hear a mother complain about how ever since her children reached 5th grade, she can no longer help them with their homework. The celebrations in the park, on the other hand, were insulated. They insinuated a completion of the “revolution.” It’s all said and done for many of those present – democracy, new government, mission accomplished / la vie en rose. The party they voted for won, and given some ingrained cultural vestiges left by the old regime, that’s more than enough to ensure stability and prosperity in the country.

These ideological divisions are happening due to one reason: the government’s lack of direct and systematically executed communication with the residents of any Tunisian cities besides the capital.

Tunisian leaders now have a new penchant for inviting foreign dignitaries day in and day out. Ever since its inception, all the new government has been doing is inviting various heads of state and making “agreements” – what they entail exactly, most of the Tunisian population has no idea. Some Constituent Assembly members, along with a few ministers, have made trips to the interior. On one of the trips to Gafsa, a minister witnessed yet another incident of self-immolation: Ammar Gharsallah, a father of three, lit himself on fire after the minister refused to meet with him. Gharsallah is unemployed and has actively participated in the sit-ins that have been taking place the past few weeks in front of the Gafsa governmental office. The acts of self-immolation happen for a reason: despair. I hate to be the one stating the obvious but it seems that many of our politicians do not understand how to allay this feeling. As PM Jebali invites Ismail Haniya, people are burning – if not literally, they are burning internally with despair.

In Gafsa, Rdayef, Gassrine, and Sidi Bouzid. As Marzouki speaks with the Emir of Qatar, the President of Algeria, and Head of the Libyan transitional council Mustafa Abdul Jalil, Tunisians are striking. Protesting. Crying for attention from a most humble base. Life cannot – and should not – go as per usual until the demands of these protesters are met. Even though its only been a year since the former regime was overthrown, the months pass by as an eternity for many who, with thwarted dreams, are still waiting. Waiting on remedial action from the new government.

“But the government just recently got its act together – how do you expect them to meet the demands in a month?” This is what I’ve been hearing time and time again. I used to say this myself. This is what the government can do: instead of “visiting” Gassrine, perhaps they can jumpstart the reorganization of internal municipal structures while they’re there. They can start providing training for the enactment of internal democratic procedures. They can begin the development of the interior regions – not through agreements with the Qatari Emir, but rather from the bottom up. Ask local residents what they need – document their needs. Work with local civic organizations in doing so. Then, open up business bids to fulfill these demands. Then, show residents of the cities you are visiting progress reports. In the example of opening up of a new factory, a study can be distributed to local city councils detailing how much is invested in the project, expected output, expected number of jobs, expected net gain to the city. The government (health ministry) can also begin renovating and reconditioning local hospitals. The government can also start by organizing their own respective offices – dividing the workload appropriately and allocating adequate human resources to enter the long-neglected interior areas. I can really go on for another page about what the government can do.

I understand that establishing a new political tone on the international stage is important. But what is more pressing are the domestic issues that absolutely must be faced.

The celebrations held in a local cultural center in Melloulech (a small town about 13 kilometers away from Chebba) were the most heartwarming – and the most honest. There, a united group of local residents gathered for the unveiling of a freshly painted mural, and schoolchildren sang some songs honoring the uprisings. They also had a short play enacting the heroic sacrifices of the young men and women who were brave enough to bare their chests to live fire. They poignantly expressed solidarity with each other as Tunisians. At this celebration, no lofty debates about nationalism and communism and islamism took place. No highbrow mentions of a looming caliphate or an “unclean” media were made. Instead, the air was imbued with patient optimism that recognized the feats of the past while critically looking ahead.

The mural unveiled at Dar el Chabeb in Melloulech

tunis: the medina

a brisky mid-morning in downtown tunis. the cafe a friend took me to was called “qahwet el 3inba (قهوة العنبة )” or, “cafe of the grapevine.” what i loved most about it was its nonchalant attitude: the cafe was not easy to find, and unlike many in the area, did not exude a touristy shine. it is essentially some chairs and tables on the sides of an alley with grapevines above. it was raw and rusty, but utterly charming – despite some noise emanating from the blacksmith next door. the server does not offer a menu as the cafe only had classics such as turkish coffee, espresso, and tea. following the coffee – wherein we discussed thomas paine, ennahda, zionism, and cyclical physics – my friend and i just walked around the medina. even though i have walked its narrow alleys countless times, the sun hit every thing quite differently this time.

enjoy.

Dilou face aux familles des martyrs

Yesterday, Human Rights Minister and Spokesperson of the Tunisian government Samir Dilou explaining to martyr’s families that the government has yet to decide how to pay them compensation.

Much of what he said is logical – however, the way he was speaking did not sit well with me. Additionally, the government needs to be more transparent in the way it  is establishing the necessary institutions to deliver on its promises dealing with compensation.

Bouazizi’s family: “We know that Mohamed would be proud of Tunisia today”

Some of Bouazizi's siblings on their way to Sidi Bouzid

On their first visit to Sidi Bouzid since Eid el-Adha a few weeks ago, Mohamed Bouazizi’s family left their new abode in La Marsa, a suburb northwest of Tunis, pn  to pay their hometown a visit. In Sidi Bouzid, festivities are being held all weekend in honor of the young Bouazizi’s sacrifice to the Tunisian uprisings which sparked upheavals against systems of tyranny around the world.

Since their move to  La Marsa however, the family has had little time to reconnect with each other or process how their kin has altered the course of history. The media glare certainly has not left much time for reflection – due to interviews conducted across the globe to recording different shows, their move has barely even sunk in.

Sidi Bouzid has remained on their minds, however. The youngest of the Bouazizis, Zied, a 9-year old with a twinkle in his eyes every time he smirks, expressed longing for his hometown and the people in it. “I miss my friends in [Sidi] Bouzid, so I am very excited to visit,” he said.

But the homecoming has not been as sentimental for the Bouazizis as it may initially appear to be. Upon opening the door to the family’s modest house today for the first time since Eid el-Adha, the family was greeted with trash and broken glass bottles strewn across their front yard. “Maybe it’s the wind that blew all the rubbish into the yard,” one of Mohamed’s sisters said in an effort to detract from the mess.

Bouazizi's sisters cleaning up the mess found in their front yard this evening

One of their neighbors, whom Bouazizi’s mother Manoubia alleges is spreading rumors about the family, also started building a house with an outer wall edging into the Bouazizi household. “See what they have done? They have no shame – we have to deal with this nonsense as we still figure out how to get our life together,” said Manoubia.

One source of controversy in the town is whether or not Mohamed died as a shaheed [martyr]. In Islam, suicide is considered a major sin. Hence, some hold the opinion that Mohamed should not be celebrated as a heroic or exemplar figure. When Salem, Mohamed’s older brother, was asked how he would respond to the statement that his brother is not a martyr, he responded saying, “Listen, only God knows whether he is a martyr. But how do you think he developed the courage to perform such an action? It is from the desperation that he felt.”

For the family, the best way to commemorate Mohamed’s courage is by attempting to go back to life as per usual. “We want to steer clear of any talk and to build our family anew,” Manoubia said. One of her daughters, Laila, 25, aspires to go to Montreal to complete her higher education studies, and one of her sons, Karim, 15, aspires to be a rapper one day.

“Whereever fate may take my children, I only wish for them to work hard and with an honest attitude,” Manoubia said.

Manoubia Bouazizi, Mohamed's mother

Manoubia however ended the night on a hopeful note: “Sooner or later people will organize themselves  and work collectively to serve the interests of the country in such an orderly way that even a president won’t be needed.”