Monday, February 7, 2011

Normalcy?

Things seem to be returning to normal.

I haven't seen any soldiers in almost a week, and police seem to be back in charge of security.

Anti-RCD protests across the country have been getting more violent. About a week ago masked youths attacked high schools in my neighborhood and injured students and teachers, but were scared off by the military.

The return of the police has also led to people being killed at protests again. It's been happening all over the country, and just today supposedly police killed two protesters in my neighborhood.

Many people completely blame the police, and it is true that they seem to be more brutal then the Army. However, anti-RCD protesters tend to respect the military and probably wouldn't overtly attack them. The police on the other hand are a much bigger target of rage and may be acting, at least partially, in self defense.

Anyways, despite the fact that police are back on the streets, shooting people, and despite the fact that there is intense political uncertainty here, people are still happy. I'm not a particularly optimistic person in general, but I think things will be better a year from now then they were in 2010.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

What the kids think

Today was my first day teaching teenagers post-revolution. Not surprisingly, it was an interesting experience.

It's hard to overstate how dangerous it was to talk about politics under Ben Ali. Even teenagers and younger children had to toe the party line or there would be serious consequences.

Before the revolution I always tried really hard to avoid talking about politics. American politics were fine, as was Israel/Palestine, as long as it never touched on local things (for instance, Israel was bad but Ben Ali's support of them wasn't). Bringing up Tunisian politics would at best elicit uncomfortable lies and at worst put my students in serious trouble.

Since the revolution has happened, all anyone here can do is talk politics,  so I decided what hell, and used Tunisian current affairs to practice grammer points (we were going over modals and comparatives).

My students are all 15 year olds who wear jeans and ironic trucker hats, and who listen to Lil Wayne and Justin Bieber, so I was sorta surprised how religious they are. Ben Ali's repression of religion was very hard on them, and the freedom to practice their religion freely was one of the things they looked forward to the most.

One boy in my class said that he was happy that he could go to morning prayers (in the wee hours) at his Mosque with his dad. This is a pretty normal practice for serious muslims, but in Ben Ali's day (6 weeks ago) youths who did this faced arrest or worse. Also many girls in my class said that they were thinking about wearing hijab now, because due to government policy women wearing hijab had a harder time getting employed and educated.

Since the revolution many of my friends have started wearing Hijab and growing beards (having a long beard and going to prayers could supposedly get you disappeared) and it's one of the most visible signs of the revolution. We hear a lot in America about regimes around here that repressively enforce Islam,  but a lot regimes are just as oppressive in the opposite direction and it's nice to see people take their basic rights back.

Things in Egypt look like Tunisia about a month ago. Mubarak fired his entire government and filled it up with Military guys. This is clearly a ploy to keep the Military invested in the regime so they don't go and side with the protesters like Tunisian Army did.

Things in Egypt also make things here look pretty good.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Egypt next? Ask the security forces

On Al Jazeera and the BBC I'm seeing a lot of coverage about Egypt and the protests there. Obviously Masri looks a lot like Tunisia did about two weeks ago.

Even people who thought Tunisia was stable two months ago generally agreed that Egypt was a turbulent basket-case, and it would not surprise me if a a Jazmine Revolution part II(/Muslim Brotherhood Revolution) happened in Egypt.

Many outside observers have been wondering aloud why the Ben Ali regime fell. Some people think it was wikileaks, others think it was because he started shooting his own people on camera. Neither of these things helped his cause, but in my dubious opinion he fell because he didn't worry enough about maintaining good relations with the military. When his loyal police needed help, the army and it's leader General Rachid Ammar, decided for whatever reason to side with the people.

Had the army followed Ben Ali's orders, there might have been a civil war, but Ben Ali would still be in Carthage with his gold and pet tigers.

I know very little about the Egyptian security forces, but I'm sure it's a sprawling network of competing organizations and interests. If the Mubarak regime has been managing it well they will survive. However, if any major sector of the Egyptian security forces feels mistreated or slighted, they could take General Ammar's example, and when the regime desperately needs them, simply decide not to show up.

General Ammar went from being a no-name head of an underfunded military to the most popular man in Tunisia. Any ambitious soldier or policeman would do well to follow his example.

Instability and military rule

The protest I went to yesterday was definitely different then the protests that went on before the Revolution.

First of all it was two sided.

Though both sides were ridiculing Ben Ali and Leila, I think (once again, I'm not sure) the much bigger group was also ridiculing the UGTT, (the main labor union and a major impetus behind the revolution) demanding an end to the mass strike and an acceptance of the interim government.

The side waving UGTT flags was much smaller, and was basically being protected by soldiers.

The UGTT and their supporters want the interim government to be completely purged of all Ben Ali's ministers, or at least the most powerful ones. (defense, interior, etc) However, many of Ben Ali's former cronies (members of the RCD party) have been able to hang on to power and as a result all attempts at creating a unity government have collapsed. This has left Tunisia in a state of parliamentary limbo.

Perhaps people in other regions blame this on the RCD, but in my region almost everyone I talk to thinks that the RCD ministers should be allowed to stay, for the sake of stability.

These people have a point. Even though the RCD did terrible things, most(/all) of the opposition has absolutely no experience running a government. People who were unemployed bloggers or working in Paris a month ago now have prominent positions in government. Many people I talk to say that RCD members should be allowed to stay, at least for the next two months (after which there will be fresh elections).

Also the terrorists killing people in my neighborhood last week were almost certainly security forces loyal to the RCD apparatus. I doubt the military got them all, and a real purge of the RCD would probably mean more indiscriminate violence.

Another reason that people around my way feel amicable to the interim government is that almost all the highranking RCD party members are from my region.(the Sahel)

Regionalism here is at least as bad as racism in the United States, and the Sahel has gotten a lot of investment and development as a result of the RCD's patronage. While everyone in Tunisia sees Ben Ali as a criminal, most people around here want to keep their regional privilege.

In any case all this instability is making an overt military take over of the government more and more likely. General Rachid Ammar is the head of the army, and basically allied the army with the revolution at a very critical moment. No one has a bad thing to say about him at this point, and so far he hasn't seemed particularly interested in making himself the next Ben Ali. However, if the political chaos remains General Ammar will be under pressure from America (supposedly) and even common Tunisians to step in.

I have one close friend who lives in my neighborhood, but whose family comes from Sidi Bouzid. He hates the RCD and thinks that every high ranking member should be deposed and put on trial. I asked him if this was worth instability and he basically told me "whatever, the military can just take control."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mass Strike/More Vacation

There have been peaceful protest Marches on my street the last few days. This, like the amplified Mosque sermon on friday, would have been impossible a month ago.

The protests are part of a campaign, organized by the main labor union to completely purge the current government of all regime creatures (members of Ben Ali's RCD party).

The main part of the protest is a nation-wide mass strike. It doesn't affect cafes (of course) but everyone else, (including me) is getting a revolutionary vacation.

There is going to be an anti-RCD protest today, since they have been peaceful in Sousse I might go.

UPDATE

I went to the protest downtown, and let me tell you it was confusing. There was a relatively small group of demonstrators in front of the UGTT office, who were waving a UGTT flags


video


Separated from them by a large group of gun toting soldiers was a much bigger anti-UGTT protest. They were yelling slogans against the leader of the Union (Mr. Jrad) and against the mass-strike. Some signs seemed to call for acceptance of the interim government.(?)







Interestingly, both sides were yelling slogans against Ben Ali. This protest and demos like it across the country point the potential for instability here

Friday, January 21, 2011

Mosque Sermon

Today the neighborhood Mosque broadcast it's entire friday sermon over the loudspeaker. Until this friday, they only announced the call to prayer over the loud speaker.

I only barely understood parts of it, but it definitely referenced Tunisia and current events. Until about a week ago, broadcasting an amplified religious sermon, especially one about politics would have been unthinkably stupid and would get you some very negative attention from the interior ministry.

This illustrates something important about the so-called "Jazmine Revolution". This movement might not be able to create a European-style democracy here, or end pervasive corruption and unemployment. However, freedom of expression, especially relating to religion and political dissent, will increase.

Yesterday I went downtown to meet my Tunisian friend who came in from Gafsa. We went to a bar for a few beers and on the way I was able to take some photos.


On the way we walked past a peaceful demonstration that was wrapping up in front of the local trade union office. The trade union (the UGTT) is one of the most progressive (or at least anti-regime) organizations that operated above ground over the last few years. The army's actions in support of the people started the revolution, but the UGTT's actions are what started the protest movement.

If I had to guess I would say any left of center/secular political group here will probably coalesce around the UGTT

The people here were demonstrating in favor of the the union and against any members of the old regime staying in positions of power. The UGTT has been threatening a mass strike if former regime figures stay in power.


Police offices are still in pretty bad shape.



Even worse off are companies (like TunisAir) that were owned by the ruling families. This office was right next to a police station, and it still got looted and burned.



My friend Leila was nice enough to talk about the political future of Tunisia

video

What she says is pretty in line with what I've been hearing here, although it might be different outside of the Sahel.(my region)

The attitude at the barricades is very apolitical. Everyone I have talked to has expressed hatred of the former regime, but this was because of their corruption, brutality and incompetence, not their ideology. Also people often praise the army and hope for "stability." So far I have heard no endorsement or even much mention of any political party, or ideology.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Some barricades being removed

My neighbors who are relatives of Ben Ali (the ones in the nice house I mentioned earlier) supposedly got attacked today. It was nothing major though.

Rumor is that they had taken out some loans when their relative was President and never paid them back because they didn't have to. Supposedly, now that their license to steal is gone, the people who they owe money to were trying to get some of it back.

Anyways I guess the lenders punched a guy and threatened them, and now a squad of 5 or 6 military guys is posted up on my block.(unfortunately they were the first people I have met in this conflict who refused to have their pictures taken) This is a good thing, as it makes us extremely secure, and as a result we didn't even bother building the barricade on my street tonight. (we take it down every morning so people can use their cars and park for the stores and mosque)

Since our houses are safe, My neighbor invited me to come hang out at his friends barricade. His friend lives on a main street close to my house, so we grabbed our Assahs (sticks used for defense) and walked over.

On the way over, we stopped by a black market beer shop and picked up a bunch of beers. The beer dealers were operating out of a somewhat run down house and got down just like dope dealers in America...a bunch of big older guys were sitting around watching, and 14 year olds would take your money and give you the beer.

We got to the barricade and chilled out and gave beers to the guys who don't pray. We had checked about five or ten cars when a military truck came rumbling by. He said that though the situation was still not settled, things has improved enough that the Soldiers wanted us to remove the barricades on the major streets, although we could still keep them on the side streets.

We quickly removed the the main barricade but still controlled access to the side streets. The local police are driving around now, but in every car of three policemen must have one soldier in it. This is because neither the military, nor anyone I have talked to, trusts the police.

When one of these mixed cars drove by our barricade, one of my new friends yelled at it something that basically means "much respect to the soldiers, fuck the police."

Eventually I headed back towards my house and went to my other friend's corner, where practically the entire block was out drinking coffee and eating cake.

As much as I hope things get back to normal, I hope the blockparty-like atmosphere atmosphere in my neighborhood continues.