This time Ramadan is different

Translated by Maaike Voorhoeve

We Tunisians are still in choc by the attack of 25 July. It cost the life to Mohamed Brahmi, a member of the Constituent Assembly with measured yet firm positions such as encouraging rebellion against Ennahda. Next, the massacre of nine soldiers on 29 July struck the Tunisian summer like lightning. Since this moment, the army has been wearing itself out in the deserted region of Mount Chaambi, and the bruised families, proud of the heroes who died for their fatherland, are refusing all official presence of government representatives.

A turning point ?

Emotions are swelling, bringing agony and distrust to light, every wave enlarging the circle of those struck, every strike seeding feelings of insecurity and fear of the future. Over the past 30 months we have learned that this persistent emotion is not the bearer of something better : it only favours the cynical, increases disorderand spreads discord, both in public life and within families.

This summer, tension is reigning. In the violence and the unknown it recalls the months of December 2010 and January/February 2011- but with a feeling of disunity added to it. I don’t exactly know why, but I feel that we find ourselves in the second, decisive phase of a huge change. We cannot call it ‘revolution’ yet, at least not as long as these convulsions do not materialize in concrete changes sufficient to install something that breaks with the intrigues and the discord. For the new (Nahdaouis) and the old (RCD), twins and enemies at once, the battle is becoming serious ; one team is chasing the other (or infiltrating those who allow it) at the expense of the country’s equilibrium and security, not to mention its moral principles and the needs it is most bereft of. There is an air of ‘déjà vu’ with the sentiment that the state is governed by a mafia, ill-prepared for power yet determined to stay.

Our media, progressing but still ill-equipped, are far from selective and objective, qualities that would diminish opacity and tension. We have seen television and radio channels multiply, as well as newspapers and new sites, but human capacity needs time to supply a sector that has been emptied of efficacy over the course of decades. Journalists remember the fall of the regime on 14 January 2011. They caught up one step concerning the requirements of the profession and constructed a solidarity that benefits their craft as well as the emerging freedom of expression. But it takes time to inform in a more analytical way, based on facts and inspired by a more profound knowledge of the social and economic contexts, of debates and references. Even if the attacks on the profession remain largely concealed, political players blame the media for not portraying them the way they want. Between this unrealistic phantasm and rare professionalism, Tunisians, caught in the politico-media battle, have nothing to go by, and the organization for media regulation (HAICA) has hardly started working on work-ethic and content.

While ruthless politics are searing the place with theirshare of measures, nominations and texts, provided with briefreports that meet with circumstantial and superfluous communications, situations that neither the media nor analysts are able to observe or reconstruct are abounding in daily life. Tunisians are living something new, they are facing unprecedented experiences, aspiring a new political life, and at the same time they are feeling a responsibility that exceeds their capacity in the face of enemies that are hardly hidden. In name of ‘civil society’, the best and the worst are sitting side by side, money being an opaque motor that is beyond all control.

In the different provinces, in the various sectors and in different layers of society, forms of contestation are steadily shaping the real. The murder of Brahmi put Sidi Bouzid back in the spotlights, a region that continues to be afflicted. We discovered his widow who is just as impressive as Besma Khalfaoui, Chokri Belaïd’s wife who made her appearance after the attack on her husband. You should see this mother of five intervene on the cemetery of Jellaz and in meetings : her dignified eloquence and her determination titillate without giving in to abuse. The poet Sghaïer Ouled Ahmed covers this evolution with a prophecy: ‘We have three widows [of LotfiNagdh, ChokriBelaïd and Mohamed Brahmi] and you have three presidents. We’ll see who prevails’. It’s crazy who the events are ‘revealing’ as remarkable personalities ; hidden forces are making themselves visible and choked capacities of formulation and action are coming to life. Tunisian society is living a new stage in its political cultivation.

Politisation versus division

This tension created action: a sit-in calling for the departure (er-rahil), lined up in front of the National Assembly, is growing around deputies who decided, after the murder of their colleague, to block the work of the Assembly and demand the departure of the government of Laarayedh. A reply defending the ‘legitimacy of the ballot’ (ash-shar’iyya) insisted to occupy the same space, forcing the army to separate the two sit-ins with barbed wire, symbolizing the division within the country. What do these two demonstrations that inhabited the evenings of Ramadan and could be observed in the public space and in Tunisian media tell us?

Women remain on the forefront and their presence forms an indicator of the spectrum of people who demand a change of government: social classes and generations mix, the audience is mostly urban but not only. We can see families, groups of friends and associations, all rather joyful. The pro-Ennahda milieus (not only Salafists) who are defending the ‘legitimacy of the ballot’ include women as well and are parading with them, an image that translates something unnatural. The presence and the speeches of women are rarer and often over-done, the smiles less present.
The young are present everywhere (including crooks and bearded men), reflecting an energy that is hopefully more persistent and constructive than it has been over the past two years. After the ‘revolutionary phase’, everything was absorbed by politicians and the system recovered, with the political tics, and old actors are reproducing the old models. We are suspecting many young people behind the Facebook and Twitter accounts but how to appreciate this participation? Apart from the ease to transmit information and rumor, can thisreally be innovative on the political level?

I personally witnessed how the supporters of ‘legitimacy’, Ennahda’s favorite slogan, are incontestably less numerous, less feminized, less young than the supporters of the ‘departure’. They often lack spontaneity, and merely position themselves through their prayers and their speeches to the masses. They seem less convincing and their words are more aggressive.

Yes, this Ramadan is different: apart from the absurd and barbaric deaths, the mosques are abandoned even for the trawihprayer, normally much appreciated on these summer nights. The violent preaches scared ordinary believers off and people are fed up to be confronted with politics everywhere, especially without any concrete improvements. Breaking the fasts in the streets, an expression of the season, is a new tendency that goes from city to city, from north to south, accompanied by ceremonies dedicated to the militaries and the martyrs.

The mosaic of demonstrations – for and against the dissolution of the Constitutional Assembly and the departure of the government, testifies to the fact that Tunisians are politicizing softly, in their own manner, adorned with the good-hearted rhythm of Ramadan and family life. This does notbar fear in the face of the mounting violence… The festival atmosphere (Carthage, Hammamet, the medina) persists after two successive mourns.Everyone is aware that we need to live and to resist by way of these activities, hoping that the pressure that is coming from the wish for change and that is expressed by so many people and everywhere, has a pacific effect. Ennahda is trying to be imperturbable, but we can imagine the division in a movement whose compactness due to its clandestinity did not break when coming to power. We can picture the debates, the calculations and the rivalries, but no sheep is leaving the flock. Between the recently obtained position and the fear of losing influence and privileges, silence prevailed at first. After an eclipse of two or three days, we could hear the envoys make the crisis seem banal: ‘terrorism is an international phenomenon’, ‘political controversies are the price of democracy’, ‘weare dealing with a difficult inheritance’… Gaining time is a rhetorical and pragmatic tool that has shown what it’s worth. Nevertheless, it is getting more certain (the unions and the police say so) that those elected and the members of government are favoring the installation of violence, that they are swallowing the ministry of the interior and commanding positions everywhere, and that they are practicing disinformation. Where Ben Ali’s system was compact and hierarchical, what is important for them is to confiscate it under the umbrella of ‘electoral victory’, which only authorized the elected to write a constitution and to prepare the elections in one year… In 21 months we attained: three political murders; soldiers got killed by terrorists;and a disastrous foreign policy especially regarding jihadism in Syria and Libya with suspicions expressed towards Algeria. This is not to mention the violations of the right to think; the threats on the rights of women; a complete absence of reforms; and the denial of the existing structural economic problems. Kasserine and Sidi Bouzidhave levered allties with the central government (the birth of self-government?) while parts of the neighbourhood Ettadhamen (controlled by drug dealers and/or jihadists returned from abroad) escapes from every control, and this has been going on for a long time. Between the haziness of authority and spinelessness, the Tunisians, who have gotten used to an absence of rules and a culture of privileges, are constructing their daily lives on shifting sands.

One piece of good news in this hot and difficult summer : Amina was released on August 1st. She will appear in freedom at her trial in October (?). This is the least after the accumulation of accusations that cost her over two months of prison.

The Aidwas two weeks ago. Although Tunisians generally celebrate this with their families, the mobilization that started on 25 July continue. Will it resort effect ? Will it persuade those in power of the wishes of Tunisians to escape from this downward spiral engaged by our government? In its characteristic slyness, Ennahda, as usual, asked more time, hoping once again (just like after Chokri Belaïd) to calm the motion, to empty the demands from their meaning. It is seeking anger to advance its projects, to enforce deadlocks… or to prepare a counter-attack.
Who was talking about ‘transition’ ?

Hammam-Lif, 2 August 2013
This text appeared in French in the Quotidien d’Oran, 4 August 2013.

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