Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Gunshots, sanctioned looting and.... soccer (football)

As night rolled around, I had just started changing out of my daytime clothes into my all black, athletic nighttime ensamble when I heard gunshots.

I was just starting to go outside to see what was going on, when a female canadian friend of mine who lives in my neighborhood (we're the only westerners here) called me. Her Tunisian boyfriend was out on the street already and she wanted to know if I had seen him or knew what was going on.

Per usual I had no idea whatsoever what was going on and she told me that the shooting was coming from Rue Imam Muslem, and that she had seen people running down the street carrying electronics and other valuables . 

I ran over there and saw a huge group of people standing around a large, well built house with broken windows. There was an Army truck outside and soldiers were shooting in the air to make people give them room.

I saw my friend Leila there and she told me that the house belonged relatives of Ben Ali. The relatives had fled the country and now people were looting the house.

The soldiers had come on the scene midway through, but since everyone hates Ben Ali, the soldiers allowed people to take anything they could carry away. After everything was gone the people had wanted to burn the house down for good measure.

While the soldiers here are typically laisse faire when it comes to robbing the former ruling families, they have a strict "no burning anything" policy and began firing in the air to stop people from setting things on fire.

They then talked to a local group of stick wielding citizens who built a barricade around the house.

Then i went up the street and played soccer (football for all you non-Americans) with a bunch of kids at a barricade.

In the last two days the terrifying gun battles and tense traffic stops are being increasingly replaced by recreation (the gunfire and traffic stops are still occasionally there though).

I have been very well fed

And learned some Tunisian/French card games.

Many of my friends at home have been asking me about the new government, and what I think it's going to look like.

Not surprisingly I had no idea, so tonight I asked some of my friends who they thought would do well in the next elections. Interestingly, not a single person had any idea, or even any opinions on any of the political parties.

If the Ben Ali regime (and the regime that came before him) was good at anything, it was crushing any form of political opposition. In the '70s and '80s leftist groups challenged the him, so if you expressed any sort of views to the left of the status quo you were blacklisted or worse. In the '80s and '90s Islamist groups challenged the regime, so if you grew your beard too long, or spent to much time at the mosque you would be "in trouble".

As a result the opposition developed in exile and has very little base among the Tunisian people. However if I had to guess, I would say a moderate Islamist party (ala AKP in Turkey) will probably get a plurality. Moderate Islamist parties tend to put a big emphasis on social justice/economic redistribution and tend to shy away from doing things like forcing women to wear the hijab and stuff like that.

Tunisians practice a very tolerant, easy form of Islam. (most young guys drink openly, it's cool if you never go to the Mosque) However, being a devout, practicing Muslim gives you a lot of social capital here, and I think there is a view that a politician who goes to the mosque and prays regularly is less likely to screw you then one who doesn't. Also Ben Ali's regime was so repressively secular that there is bound to be a backlash against that.

There are also many Tunisians I know with very secular values, and they generally tend to hold vaguely center left views. There are many political parties competing for this group, and who will win will probably depend on personality and platform rather then ideology.


  1. Thanks for keeping your blog going. I've been reading for 4-5 days now and this is amazing.

    Keep it up!

    Wasalam habibi

  2. yeah hopefully over the next week things will get boring enough that I have nothing to write about.

    if things stay this peaceful, i'll have to start writing about cous cous and horiza