From FEMEN to Salafism: behind Tunisia's chaos
FEMEN impersonators. (Photo courtesy of Al-Akhbar and ST McNeil)
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As Tunisia’s post-dictatorship constitution is being forged through a democratic and messy process in a former palace of the Ottoman bey, the local Al-Qaeda affiliate might be planting explosive mines near the Algerian border—and the press is aflame with coverage of culture clashes between extremists of stringy beards and perky breasts.
The story of Amina Tyler, a 19-year old French-Tunisian whose provocative nude political statements aroused liturgical lusts, has expanded beyond just one woman and her critics. With their Tunisian comrade forced to wear a white robe while on trial, three sextremist colleagues from Europe flew to Tunisia, ready to bare all in support of Tyler. The resulting half-dozen slipped nips enraged political activists—both Tunisian feminists and Islamists—and landed the trio four months each in Tunisian jail. Tyler got two years.
Their Ukraine-based headquarters threatened to invade Tunisia with a topless army.
And now Tunisia has its very own Ice “Cop Killer” T. After hiding from the police since March, the rapper Weld El 15 surrendered, and then was sentenced to two years in jail on Thursday for writing Boulicia Klab, a song criticizing and threatening police with violence.
Song and nudity aside, the army is investigating a series of mine explosions in Djebel Chaambi, Tunisia’s tallest mountain, near the Algerian border. Perhaps Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb is behind the mines that have killed three so far and disfigured many in two separate explosions. Much remains unclear, however, with many conspiracy theories filling the gap of information left by silent authorities and a censored press.
This chaos swirls--just as corruption cases against former regime hacks are hotly contested, and another self-immolates as part of the three-year old mining strike. The strongest pillar of the Tunisian economy in the post-revolution climate, the industry is reported to have almost reached the bottom of its mineral reserves. But we’re not really sure, ladies and gentlemen. Most are focused elsewhere.
While stirring a global debate about the nature of an Islamist state in the birthplace of the Arab Spring, these harsh sentences for freedom of expression has buried real economic policy and state transformation on page two.
The International Monetary Fund’s new $1.7 billion conditional loan package for Tunisia was fiercely debated in the national assembly—but in the end was forced upon the nation by the ruling Ennahdha party. This is but one example of the executive branch’s power in the political tumult in Tunisia; they also allowed foreign ownership laws and increased fracking operations. And, unlike in Egypt, the IMF's conditions for Tunisia don't directly threaten bread prices (etc) but revolve around transforming the country in a node for global financial capital across the Africa continent.
Some called for an audit of the national debt, asking why Tunisians should pay loans granted to former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali—arguing the IMF was complicit in the regime. Is it fair to hand Tunisians the bill for the excess of a government they didn't elect—and one that international financial institutions knew wasn't legitimate? The measure was shut down in the council. And others are criticizing the rampant nature of corporations—specifically big polluters like refineries—in the post-revolution environment.
Distracted by breasts and salafis, and focused on crafting a constitution, who is going to crack down on unregulated industries, check all the fine print of so-called emergency loans, foster dialogue between ideologues, stop the development of free-trade suburbs throughout Tunisia, and prosecute corrupt politicians wealthy from Ben Ali graft?
“The only thing organic in Tunisia is the revolution,” Mabrouka M’Barek, a Tunisian assembly member, told me during an interview for a documentary about climate change.
Don’t get lost in the sensationalist headlines—there is nothing revolutionary there.
By ST McNeil