I don't know if you know already, but things in Tunisia have been quite incited recently. Violence, protests, arrests and, of course, a curfew give people much to fear and worry. Some say Salafists (a group who promote a more conservative and extremists Islam) want another revolution, after which Tunisia would base it's law on sharia law, for instance. Others simply say the country's still unstable, fear that this period of democracy may be no more than a window. In all this talking though many voices call to mind the French Revolution -- things did not go well immediately either there, so we should all allow Tunisia more time.
But about the specific clashes: I would like to clarify a few things to possibly deter some misconceptions.
The New York Times has mentioned it. Reuters wrote a little more. CNN, and all the others wrote about it roo. Why do I take issue with this? Well, correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems that these reports confirm all those impressions of Tunisia which I came here to defy. Global news on Tunisia seem to suggest two things: A) not much is happening in the country, or B) Tunisia is violent.
At dinner last night, a friend from Spain was visiting a friend here for three days: "From abroad, it all seems terrifying. People said I shouldn't come, because of all the tumult. It sounded like the entire country was in shambles." The news are certainly not telling lies, yet, the selection of the news that make it global don't favor Tunisia.
Now, what exactly has been going on:
- The trigger: an art exhibit in La Marsa (near the capital), and one piece in particular -- in it, ants formed the name of Allah (bottom picture, top right corner)
- The reaction: some were irritated, some got angry, some actually loved the exhibition. On the last day, someone called for protest, which then occurred in the name of Salafists.
- The result: curfew for three days, and clashes all across the country. 65 police men injured, more than 100 arrested and so forth. A lot of areas stayed calm, however. Mine for instance.
I don't need to tell you that, guess what, daily life in Tunis just continued nonetheless. Nobody complained about the curfew. Some people were intimidated, some simply didn't mind the ban and went outside. Some were worried that no people on the street past 9 or 10pm would harm businesses normally operating then. But business owners said they were alright. For me, it made no different anyways, since the hostel I am staying at has a 10pm closing time no matter what.
Nonetheless, due to the curfew in the end, I had to sleep over at two different homes. One expat gathering, that had to be extended until 4am (not the worst strategy for a mediocre party that wants to continue), and one Arabic family that didn't want to drive me back at 9.30 for fear of being outside after 10.
Then on Friday, more protests were predicted. In fact, Rashid Ghannoushi, Tunisia's current leader, had called for protests to protect the revolution, while Salafists supposedly were prepping protests too. A friend and I went to the place where they should clash, but nothing there.
The protests were called off.
We did, however, see police - kind of like a squat team - expelling unregistered salesmen from the streets. Funny that they'd care, i thought. These salesmen with their little tables and things like hats and children's clothes displayed on sheets across the floor, have been here forever, and without will do the same again within no time.
And in La Marsa, where it all started? We visited it yesterday. The pretty streets were notable, and the quiet in comparison to Tunis. Otherwise, no protests anywhere, just the hissing sea whose sublte rhythm spread throughout the town, and showed off its stunning turquoise blue thorugh gaps in the street and behind trees. Just by the beach the calm was strangely interrupted by electric beats, while men in shorts and women in bikinis and women fully covered enjoyed the pleasant cold of water on this 90 degree day.
To conclude: I really do not wish to undermine the protests. In fact, I think that everyone should know about them. I just wanted to tell the other side as well. Tunisia today is a complicated mix of hope and fear, uncertainty and simply living.
What worries me much more is this: Tunisians get in trouble (wrongly) for spending time with foreigners...