Monday, 7 November 2011

Tunisia: First Thoughts + Photos

Ash-shaʻb yurīd isqāṭ an-niẓām

Place du Governement... still a police state.

After the turmoil of Cairo, with ongoing mass protests and the general hubbub of one of the regi on's capitals, Tunis was both a relief and a shock. The more laid-back atmosphere of Tunis reminds me of Australia (I found myself saying "she'll be right" every five minutes) but arriving around a month before the Constituent Assembly elections meant that the interim government was pulling out all the stops in stopping public spaces from being used in unsanctioned ways. I have to admit that I did find myself despairing a little bit to be seeing such a blatant exercise of police state power in the nation where the Arab Spring began - but I quickly realised that Tunisia's revolutionary struggle, like Egypt's, has only just begun.

This is Avenue Habib Bourguiba, where the protests which toppled Zine el Abidine Ben Ali were centred.. in September & October it was under total lockdown, police & military trucks full of reinforcements & barbed wire emplacements at either end. Since Ben Ali's downfall, the Kasbah (a beautiful tiled square across the road from the Place du Government, above) has been the usual place for mass assemblies; every time I went there to lie in the sun and listen to my iPod, there was at least one truck full of police &or soldiers lounging about. Perhaps that's why nobody bothered me! Tunis is definitely nowhere near as overcrowded as Cairo, but it's a bustling cosmopolitan city - a great place to spend my birthday :)

Unemployed secondary teachers staging a sit-in outside of the Ministry of Education - when I spoke to them they had been there daily for over one month, although the police had turfed them from the footpath & fortified it after a few weeks. They represented Tunisia's situation in many ways - feeling like the political process of interim governments and Constituent Assembly had little ability to deliver the reforms they were asking for, which were just jobs. They had all completed their education but had nowhere to work; the interim Prime Minister had told them verbally but refused to give it in writnig that they would get jobs by January (by which time the new government appointed by the Consitutent Assembly will be in power).

Activists from Italy & Tunisia meet at La Goulette port to raise awareness for the Tunisian & Libyan refugees being detained on Lampedusa. Marine Le Pen, who appears to be a far more articulate French version of Pauline Hanson to Sarkozy's John Howard, travelled to the island after the revolutions to tell the Italian navy to "turn the boats around" and "take them back where they came from". Australia is 10 years ahead of the curve when it comes to racist rhetoric, woo! */sarcasm* Pictures is Azyz Amami, one of Tunisia's blogger crew who along with Slim Amamou was arrested and tortured during the uprising against Ben Ali.

Graffiti on Avenue de France - "How much better is Tunisia without Ben Ali Baabar & the 40 thieves"

Some things need no translation... Although for those not familiar with Tunisia, the Trabelsi family were one of those who profited from Ben Ali's rule; they fled the country when the Revolution started. The UJCT (Union of Communist Youth of Tunisia) is the youth wing of the Tunisian Worker's Communist Party (PCOT from the French, or "poct" in common language...). Poct were, along with the Tunisian bloggers, democracy activists & others, one of the forces which were most central to the success of the uprising against Ben Ali - especially due to their somewhat clandestine involvement in the trade unions, whose leaders were collaborators with Ben Ali but which still were relatively safe places for leftists at the branch levels.

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