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

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.


  1. The Obama administration has been very tentative in its response to the Jasmine Revolution. I can't name one US administration that has chosen to support a full-fledged democratic election in the Arab world if the results could be disruptive to our goals of US and Israeli hegemony in the Middle East.

  2. The Middle East is definitely in a period of transition, so I think it would be in the United State's interest to support a democratic Tunisia.

    I also think the left's tendency to focus solely on America's support of Israel when it comes to the middle east is a little wrong headed.

    Sure our support for Israel is wrong, but we also support corrupt Arab regimes (the Mubarak regime, the obsolete Palestinian Authority, etc.) that kill and rob their own people. Not only is it wrong to support these actors, but I think it might become increasingly untenable to do so.

    The United States supports Israel because it's a functioning parliamentary democracy (at least if you don't count the occupied territories) and because we can count on it to bomb Iraq's nuclear facilities or cyberterrorize Iran. It also helps that American Jews are an important voting bloc.

    However, I grew up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood and ten or fifteen years ago all my Jewish friends(and their parents) strongly supported Israel. However, since the second intifada and the Gaza invasion the majority of my Jewish friends (and their parents) see state as an embarrassment.

    More importantly, the Jewish population in both Israel and the occupied territories is growing at a much slower rate then the Muslim/Arab population is. As this continues Israel is looking more and more like Apartheid South Africa.

    Roughly 1/3 of the people under Israel's control are stateless residents of the territories (not to mention the Arabs living in Israel proper) and as this fraction grows, the Jewish state is going to become incapable of repressing Palestinian nationalism.

    Many people say that a Jewish state in the Levant is morally wrong. Whether or not that's true, I think sustaining a Jewish state in the Levant is as impossible as sustaining a Dutch speaking white state in Southern Africa.

    Furthermore a two-state solution just won't work. It's hard to believe that anyone ever thought it would.

    As far as the Arab regimes we support, some of them (Saudi, Libya, etc.) have enough oil money that they will probably maintain until the petrol runs out. But others, including the extremely important Egypt, are on the precipice of a Tunisia Scenario and have been for decades. The PA has been repressing pro-Tunisian demos, because they are playing the same game that Ben Ali was (Hamas, though I wouldn't vote for them, are not).

    There is a good chance that Tunisia-like unrest will replace the current Arab regimes the same way coups toppled monarchies in the '60s. I hope the Obama admin sees this and takes the opportunity to get in at the ground floor.

  3. very insightful and well-written. enjoying reading your blog and all the little tidbits. had no idea you were in tunisia until you randomly popped up on facebook somewhere...