North Africa

Tunisia: something very fragile and messy

This is a guest post by Ben Judah

I’ve just written a dispatch in this month’s issue of Standpoint about my odyssey through from Tunis to the Libyan borders through the sour, confused and chaotic underworld of the Arab spring – where hopes for a better future mix with intense anger at Israel, shambolic power bids and the prospect of future unrest.

We need to forget our hopes and fear about what has been happening – and look squarely at what’s there now in Tunisia. Something very fragile and messy:

The people want Palestine,” they chant, they sing in the kasbah of Tunis. “We are free, down with Ben Ali,” the students jump in mock-military platoons, wave and kiss the flag. “Allah akbar, the people are free.” A turbaned man waves the crescent of Tunisia. A little girl is lifted on to the truck. “Sing it again…”

“The people will win in Palestine.”

The graffiti on the kasbah walls — “Sarkozy get out!” “Thank you Facebook.” “The Tunisian woman is free and will stay free.” “Down with US.”

A physics professor grabs me, bringing his yellow teeth uncomfortably close. “Britain and America are always with the Jewish. The Arabs are now free. No more foreigners in Arab lands.”

This is Tunis, more than a month since the flight of the Francophone dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, five days after the resignation of interim Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi and hours after Ben Ali’s last ministers abandoned their posts. Ben Ali’s face is no longer on posters and placards, but tagged onto the walls of the souk, with devil’s horns and swastikas, and stars of David between his eyes.

Denounced as a French client, a Zionist sympathiser and a cuckold, Ben Ali is now cursed as repeatedly as he was once lauded. “He told me in the palace of Carthage,” whispers his turncoat first cousin Shafrallah Mlitiri, using his pinched right hand to conjure tension, “that his wife was practising…the witchcraft on him. There was always, always, a Moroccan soothsayer at their side.”

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