Hope and fear combine in Tunisia

December 18, 2011

As he joined in a silent prayer in Tunis, Kamal Mohammad said: “If they [the politicians] do not reach an agreement soon, we will be heading towards an ominous crisis.”
For the Tunisian journalist, the political vacuum more than six weeks after the elections could mean trouble if Al Nahda — the moderate Islamist party that won more than 40 per cent of the votes in the October 23 national polls — and the two top secular parties do not reach a clear and final agreement on the government’s composition and on the powers of the prime minister.
“A year ago, we never thought that we would see real multi-party elections in Tunisia where formations from a wide spectrum of ideologies would compete for parliament seats. Even when Mohammad Bu Azizi set himself ablaze, we did not think that his act would spark the popular demonstrations that culminated with the toppling of the regime of Zain Al Abedine Bin Ali,” he said.
Born in the North African country’s heartlands, he felt strong compassion for the men in the centre and south of Tunisia who were the first to brave police bullets to demand better living conditions.

“Like all revolutions, a simple incident triggered a chain of reactions that lead to great changes. The First World War started with a single bullet. Millions of other bullets everywhere in the world did not have the same impact,” he said.
“In France, it started with a group of people marching from Marseilles in the south to Paris. In Tunisia, it started with a group of men who gathered in front of the governorate in Sidi Bu Zid to demand justice minutes after a fellow citizen had set himself ablaze.”
However, Mohammad said he was afraid the incidents of religious and liberal groups opposing each other in front of the Tunisian parliament in the first week of December could augur more pain for the nascent democracy.
Like most Tunisians, he believes his country’s revolution was by the Tunisians and for the Tunisians.
“We are a humble people who want to live peacefully and let others be at peace with their views and local idiosyncrasies. We are not into bragging that we led changes in the Arab world and into claiming that our model is the best and should be emulated elsewhere. That is not us.”
Noor Al Deen Achour, a media analyst, felt Tunisia now needs to quicken its pace in addressing pending issues.
“As we build a new democracy, organise political life and work on an open and just society where people co-exist regardless of their ideologies, we need to have a robust state with well-defined roles and a clear status,” he said.
“Failure to address critical issues means that the situation will be compounded and the solutions will become hard.”
He added that diverse ideologies are overwhelming society and the state needs to move in quickly to ensure that at least universities are neutral grounds as far as political issues are concerned.
“There is also the growing issue of Salafism which seems to have enough power and influence to attempt to impose its views on society,” Achour said.
For Naziha Al Shaikh, a teacher who does not wear a veil, the issue of the niqab (veil), that had polarised opinion at a university and in front of the parliament, should not be blown out of proportion.
“It is a personal decision and should not be used for political mileage or social influence,” she said.
“It is unfortunate that some people are intent on keeping it burning at a time when we have more pressing problems to solve — mainly restarting the economy and helping around a million people without jobs, many of whom have higher university degrees.”




About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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