Thursday, January 20, 2011

Opinion: The Tunisian Revolt - is it contagious?

Events in Tunisia have prompted a mixed reaction in Morocco. While the overthrowing of the corrupt dictatorship has brought smiles to many faces, there are some who express concern that the troubles of Tunisia might be contagious. Even more mixed has been the reporting by the international media. Ibn Warraq investigates.

For the first time in the month of protests, the demonstration on Friday also included large numbers of women — almost none wearing veils — and many snapping cellphone pictures of the crowd to post on the Internet. - The New York Times

For the New York Times, the notable thing was that many female demonstrators were not wearing veils. Really? Haroon Moghul, Executive Director of The Maydan Institute, a consulting and communications project devoted to enhancing understanding between Muslims and the West, writing in Religion Dispatches, takes issue...If, instead, it had been veiled women calling for democracy, would their protests have been any less meaningful? If so, we’d probably make this calculation: If their governments had stifled their society, that’s the fair trade we make to keep the bearded barbarians and headscarved hordes in check. I say “probably” because indeed we did: Tunisia was a close American ally in the war on terror, much as we cozy up, time and time again, to vile leaders who use the Islamist bogeyman to crack down on human rights for those human types.

And while on "the veil", it is interesting that Tunisia always pointed to the fact that Tunisia was "modern" because women were not ordered to cover their heads and that it was not the case in neighbouring countries. That is simply nonsense. The fact that in most "modern" Muslim countries choice of wearing a head covering is the norm. For the record the countries where head covering is optional include; Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Yemen, and Bahrain.

Many media outlets have noted the lack of "Islamist fundamentalists" in Tunisia, without also pointing out that the Ben Ali regime had cracked down on Islamists to the point where many fled overseas. It was not simply that women were not required to cover their heads, but that observing the fasting month of Ramadan could bring the forces of the state down upon you. Observing Ramadan is not "fundamentalist".

Middle East expert and correspondent for ‘The Independent’ newspaper in Britain, Robert Fisk, was asked by Euronews journalist Seamus Kearney for his thoughts about the wider implications of the crisis in Tunisia. While discounting any flow over effects, he went on to say' “Well it should be a warning, particularly to Egypt, to Jordan, it should be a warning to Morocco, which has been clapping its hands at the departure of Mr Ben Ali a bit late in the day."

“But the idea that these manifestations against dictatorship and corruption and so on are going to flip flop across borders I cannot believe." Robert Fisk

“The fear of “Islamism” is so great that the European Union, individual Western Countries, America will not want this to contaminate other countries in the region. But the leaders – they’re shaking in their boots all right, and good for them.”

While I generally agree with Fisk and have great admiration for his understanding of the Muslim world, I take issue that our leaders are "shaking in their boots".

The Moroccan government, by contrast, has welcomed developments and issued the following statement - The Kingdom of Morocco, which has followed with great concern the major tragic events that took place in brotherly Tunisia, expresses "feelings of deep solidarity" with the Tunisian people as a whole in this delicate and crucial period of its history.

Recalling the brotherly and historical ties between the Moroccan and Tunisian peoples and their particular attachment to their common Maghreban destiny, the Kingdom of Morocco expresses hope that the different political constituents and all Tunisian active and creative forces will find through the required serenity and the fruitful national dialogue "the paths to peace, stability and harmony that will ensure individual and collective tranquility and progress to the Tunisian brothers," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

In this respect, adds the statement, the Kingdom of Morocco calls on the international community to bring as soon as possible its support to the efforts deployed in Tunisia with a view to meeting the legitimate aspirations of the great brotherly Tunisian people.

"The stability of this country is essential and fundamental to regional security and stability, particularly in the Maghreb," underlined the statement.


Tunisia's interim president, Foued Mebazaa, yesterday vowed "a complete break with the past" to calm fears that the revolution was being hijacked by the presence of the dictatorship's ruling party in the interim government.

In his first televised speech, Mebazaa promised a "revolution of dignity and freedom" following the ousting of Tunisia's dictator president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, after four weeks of street protests. Mebazaa promised to honour "all the legitimate aspirations of the uprising".

Yesterday, as the interim cabinet held its first meeting, around 500 protestors, mostly the radical left and trade unions, took to the streets in central Tunis demanding that the ruling RCD party be excluded. But the mood in the capital was lightening.

Unlike previous days, the protesters on Bourguiba Avenue were not teargassed or beaten but were instead allowed to stand peacefully protesting until nightfall. Political prisoners, including a key dissident journalist, began to be released, the curfew was shortened, cafes reopened and people milled to work. In the narrow streets of the old medina, tourists were bartering over bags.

Other developments inside Tunisia are also hopeful. Only last week, the dissident blogger Slim Amamou was handcuffed to a chair in the notorious interrogation rooms of Tunisia's interior ministry being psychologically tormented by the dictator's henchmen and led to believe that the screams he could hear from neighbouring rooms was his family members being tortured.

It's a sign of the dizzying speed of change in Tunisia that today he was being sworn in by the prime minister as minister for youth and sport, live-tweeting that the first clash between members of the ruling RCD party was over the fact that "I'm not wearing a tie.".

Amamou is the CEO of a web development company and calls himself a "partisan of the neutrality of the net". A member of the Pirate party, inspired by the Swedish movement, he has been active on the underground blogger's circuit for many years. In a brutally repressive dictatorship, with the world's most advanced internet censorship technology, rivalling that of China or north Korea, Amamou and his fellow bloggers circulated news and videos in the name of protesting against the repressive regime.

An activist in the once banned Islamist Ennahda party, Azizi Tej stood in the crowd of demonstrators chanting "Tunisia is free". Tej had been imprisoned three times, tortured, had staged a series of hunger strikes, and had now taken to the streets with the secular radical left. He wanted the remnants of Tunisia's old regime, the RCD party, to be excluded from the temporary caretaker government.

"The Islamists want democracy," Tej said. "Lots of us were tortured, it was our Guantánamo Bay. We've paid a high price and now some people want to paint us as monsters, we're not. My religion teaches that I must accept others. We're proud to share the same God, Jews and Christians are our brothers. We don't refuse women's freedoms, we don't refuse tourism – people would die of hunger if we didn't have tourism."

At least on that final point almost all Moroccans would agree.


Tales From Bradistan said...

This blog was so much better when you weren't a mouthpiece for the Moroccan government.

Ibn W said...

Oh Brad - you tease! I am always being told I am too anti-government so your comment makes me smile. I quote the Government release in order to have it on the record - not as their mouthpiece. The Government would have a fit if they thought you were right! Rock on brother.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Ibn, we love you. Don't let grumpy old conservatives ruffle your feathers. And the notion that one post turns your great blog into a "mouthpiece"... just silly boy stuff.

Tales From Bradistan said...

The post was entitled "opinion" which is fine, and the piece itself was well-written on the subject of veils and "fundamentalism". I accept that you put the published the view of the Moroccan "government" in but there was no opinion stated about that or the long-acknowledged similarities between both the Tunisian and Moroccan regimes. The rest of the piece was a cut and paste from other news sources. So the point I was making is still the same - this largely excellent blogged continues to be somewhat tarnished by never expressing opinions or anything critical of the Moroccan regime, and publishes their largely unchallenged point of view.

SilverPower said...

I agree with Brad.
Actually on another website I came across someone refer to this site as The Spew from Fez, so it seems that you are not alone.

Piggy said...

My she does go on! Blah blah blah.
The fact remains that many of our Muslim friends live in and under regimes that we in our countries would have a shout about and try to change. That cannot be denied. Just look at the way bribes are taken by the Police in Morocco (and not just the Police)!
Veils, Heels who cares certainly not me.

TomJF said...

Brad has a point, this is a completely pointless article.

Anonymous said...

I can understand why "The View" never criticises the Moroccan government. If it did, the non-Moroccan authors would risk an quick 48 hour expulsion from the country for being a "threat to public order". So let's not be too hard on them.

tania (NY -USA) said...

Oh you have to love this solidarity amongst bloggers ! The View has been the best thing in Morocco for years and that is why it gets attacked. The "tall-poppy syndrome". So forget the moaning-minnies... and keep up the good work

Anonymous said...

Thank you Tania, for your thoughtful contribution. We too often run off at the mouth without realising how hard it is to keep a blog running in some countries. I have often thought that this blog would be shut down by the authorities, but thankfully it hasd not happened. Envy is not a nice thing and we see it far too often in comments to blogs that are worthwhile. I love the opinion pieces that Ibn does and wish he had the time to contribute more often.
And to the View from Fez authors, I appreciate that you have other interests (such as updating Lonely Planet books!) and writing novels etc, but please don't give up on the blog. It is the best in Morocco and we rely on it for news, views and gossip that we do not see in the mainstream media.

All the best
Cindi - Agadir

Masked Wonder said...

To Anonymous: How can some one be subject to an expusulsion order from somewhere where they are not not even resident? I have heard that the author can't even speak anyone the 3 languages (Arabic, French or Berber) of the country, never mind residing there?

To Tania (NY-USA), if you really believe that this site is "the best thing in Morocco for years.." then you are really partaking of too much of the top of your tall poppy, and then going on to post on this blog at 4am NY time!!!

meriem said...

It feels like you bought into the Makhzen's propaganda. Worse, you help the salafist doctrine settle in. we're not forced to were a veil. But did you know that my brother gets twice my part of inheritance just because he has a penis? Did you know that I can't marry a non-Muslim?

As a foreigner, you sir have rights than me in my own country.

Anonymous said...

Great article... strange mix of comments. Well done.

Said said...

Hello, regarding the happenings in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere I would like to recommend to you and your readers an article about the mass uprising in Tunisia and the perspective of permanent revolution.

It exists in english:
and arabic: