It’s been awhile since I gave you an update on the political and security situation here in Tunisia. Things are getting a bit exciting here again. I just hope they don’t get TOO exciting in the wrong way.
Six months after the revolution, the economy is (understandably) worse than ever. Unemployment is projected to reach 20 percent this year, compared to an already depressing 13 percent last year, pre-revolution. Beji Caid Essebsi, the current Prime Minister, blames the state of the economy on continued strikes and sit-ins, both on the street and at major firms and manufacturing plants.
There’s no doubt that the demonstrations, both in January and since, have affected the economy. However, the young people of Tunisia are not protesting over nothing. Protests this week, which broke out in several Tunisian cities, centered around the fact that those responsible for the hundreds of deaths during the month-long protests leading up to Ben Ali’s departure have still not been brought to justice. This is largely because of a corrupt judiciary system, which functions no better than before the revolution. Protesters are demanding the resignation of the Justice and Interior Ministers, and prosecution of those who ordered that protesters be shot.
Tragically, during a protest just last Saturday, security forces shot to death a 14-year-old boy in Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace and epicenter of the Tunisian revolution. They insist it was an accident, which is possible. But the fact remains that people don’t get killed by bullets unless you’re shooting at something. Live ammunition at protests is a definite step backward. The protests are getting fairly violent again too. A number of police stations were burned and looted over the weekend, and six policemen were injured yesterday in a shootout north of Tunis.
The Tunisian government claims that extremist groups are trying to derail the elections, to be held on October 23rd. It may be true. There is widespread uneasiness in Tunisia over the prospect of a significant showing in the election by the Islamist party, Ennahda. And political opinions are disparate, and sometimes vague. The main thing that everyone agrees upon is that the economy stinks, and everyone needs jobs. But despite the current difficulties, there are definite signs of hope.
To date, 94 political parties have been registered in Tunisia in anticipation of the elections, according to our friend, the General, who has thrown in his lot with one of them and spends his Saturdays in Tunis these days, strategizing and campaigning. He says his party hasn’t much of a chance, because they don’t have any money. But he’s resolved not to vote for anyone over fifty. “My generation had our opportunity, and we failed,” he told us. “We allowed Ben Ali to rule us, and we said nothing. The young people gave us the revolution, and they are the ones who should lead the government now.”
And the young people seem up to the challenge. One of my favorite things that happened in the wake of the election was when the fledgling government brought young dissident blogger Slim Amamou out of an underground torture chamber to serve in the new cabinet. After appointment to the cabinet, Slim continued his dissident activities, drawing reprimands for such infractions as refusing to wear a tie, and tweeting during cabinet meetings. Although he eventually resigned in May to protest government censorship of several websites, Slim remains an active member of the Tunisian Pirate Party (yes, that’s their awesome logo at the beginning of this post).
Another group of young Tunisians has launched a video series on youtube, injecting some much-needed political satire into the still stagnant Tunisian press. “Captain Khobza” (Arabic for “bread”) is a superman-like character who pokes fun at prominent members of government and other powerful people in Tunisia, and calls them out for corruption and injustice. He is based on a now-iconic photo of a man pointing a baguette like a machine gun during a protest, which you will see several times in the video below. I bring you the very first episode of CAPTAIN KHOBZA!
While the 50+ episodes of Captain Khobza are currently only being spread virally on Youtube and Facebook, his creators (who will identify themselves only as Baker 1, Baker 2, etc.) are in negotiations to air the series on Tunisian TV during the month-long holiday of Ramadan.
To those of us accustomed to democracy, a political cartoon might not seem exceptional. But in Tunisia, the emergence of Captain Khobza’s satiric humor is symbolic of a changing society that no longer fears to let its voice be heard. And a generation of young people who are prepared to face their country’s challenges with courage, responsibility, and a healthy dose of wry Tunisian wit.
Yes, there have been setbacks in the past, and there will undoubtedly be more in the future. But the spirit of the Tunisian revolution is alive and thriving.