Coffee Hour: on A Week in Tunisia

Photo credit: Malek Khadhraoui

Click to listen to Chris and Mark in a wrap-up exchange on the less-than-revolution in Tunisia (30 min, 12 meg)

We’re lifting a ritual from the Cairo novels of the late great Naguib Mahfouz. Almost every day in the home of the patriarch Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, there was a gathering of sons, daughters, cousins and strays for gossip, score-keeping, reflection, sometimes an argument. So my fellow traveler and co-podcaster Mark Fonseca Rendeiro (from Newark, N.J. and now Amsterdam) are mulling impressions out loud of a week Tunisia coming up on the second birthday of the revolt that began the “Arab Spring.” What came of that breathtaking blaze of human solidarity for, as they said, “freedom, dignity and work”? A parliament dominated by Islamists, eventually. And along the way: an explosion of palpable popular pleasure in free expression — in music, satire, film-making, and liberated political debate. Tunisia will vote again on the “Islamist tendency” in presidential elections next year. In the meantime, Mark is observing that in every argument we heard about religious activism in Tunisian politics, there was never a peep about “the rise of a religion that hates the West.” There was deference rather to the recovery of observant Muslims from 30 years and more of cruel persecution. We met Tunisians waiting hungrily for the “real revolution” yet to come, but they can’t be typical even of the left. I asked the acerbic political cartoonist Nadia Kiari if she’d ever felt Tunisians were reenacting 1789 in Paris. “I hope not!” she roared. To her the French Revolution called to mind Robespierre, the Terror, probably Napoleon’s manhandling of Egypt, “and Sarkozy,” she exclaimed — of the French president who stood with Ben Ali two years ago against the burst of freedom in Tunisia. What if Tunisians wanted something less than a revolution, and got it?

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  • Robert Zucchi

    As I followed Chris and Mark’s conspectus in this installment on their journey thus far, I’m led by them to think, what if the insurrectionists really are prepared to accept something less than the total upheaval that is our received idea of their rebellion?

    We, in the human way, rely on stereotypes to (falsely) simplify the complexity of the world; and in America our stereotype of Arabs is that they constitute a monoculture, fundamentalist in religion and susceptible to the blandishments of strongmen (whether mullah or ruler) and their Faustian promise of stability in exchange for license to inflict injustice and repression.

    But the artists interviewed had a nuanced view of what the Jasmine “Revolution” had accomplished, were prepared to wait years for competing visions for post-Ben Ali Tunisia to sort out, but were also resolved to continue promoting a more human society through their art. Is theirs an intellectuals’ agenda for the country, or is there a wider consensus among Tunisians that change must be evolutionary?

    This is good, thought-provoking field journalism. I’m satisfied that the crucial questions have been asked and thereby refined and clarified, and the easy answers necessarily deflected.

  • Luke

    Another great show.

    I grow frustrated with just about every progressive voice in the media and how they talk about the Occupy movement. They all speak as though the movement is dead, Mark made reference to “what occupy didn’t get” as if they have stopped searching for solutions. There is still a very active population searching hard for solutions to our worlds problems, and many of them were inspired by and some are still part of Occupy. Please stop pronouncing this movement as dead, it’s only been slightly over one year.

    Egypt, Tunisia, etc, all have had their “revolution” only none of them are complete, and they are all well over a year old. This revolution may take decades, please be patient.

  • Potter

    I agree totally about Yasser Jradi-I am captured by his music now, his singing, the women, the instruments, the fusion with western modes which makes it totally modern and reminiscent ( for me) of my recent discovery also of the Idan Raichel Project out of Israel ( soon again in Boston @ Berklee)

    Was there an interview with the filmmakers? and Mark talks about a longer interview with Maloof.

    Who is Um Ziad ( sp?)