Farida Ayari’s Short Form on “the Spring” : “What Revolution?”

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Farida Ayari (41 min, 28 meg)

Farida Ayari, journalist. Photo by Sophia Baraket

TUNIS (the North African capital formerly known as Carthage) — Farida Ayari is giving us an assertive reporter’s first-draft history of the great Arab event that began in Tunisia two years ago — the “Arab Spring” of fond memory, or the “revolt,” or the “upheaval,” as Amin Maalouf calls it. “What revolution?” Farida Ayari responded when we first met. “The revolution is still to come.”

I am hearing three big themes in her story:

(1) It was a workers’ revolt, as usual in Tunisian politics over the past century, before it was a middle-class cause. It began deep in the hinterland when the abused street vendor Mohamed Bouazizzi set himself afire in the town of Sidi Bouzid. Then and ever, unrest ran deepest in the farming and phosphate mining regions far from Tunis and the coastal resorts.

(2) Islamic activists, who’d been victims of the equal-opportunity oppressor Ben Ali, captured the parliamentary elections on the strength of organization, sympathy for past suffering, and assumptions of moral purity now compromised by cronyism and incompetence in office. The presidential election next year is up for grabs, but liberal democrats (who learned their head-over-heart politics in Europe) have still to find a resonant language in local politics.

(3) Ethnically diverse, relatively modern, moderate and prosperous Tunisia is not a “miniature” of the Arab world, “but maybe we are a laboratory.”

If we succeed to set up a genuine democracy which will be reconciled with a moderate Islam (considered as a personal thing for each person, with the liberty to worship or not worship) and if we install democratic values and an economic system that will be distributing wealth equally among people in the region, then I will say: yes! If we succeed then the whole Arab world will succeed. If we fail, it is finished for the Arab world for many many years. You will have a fundamentalist wave from Tangier to Tehran, and forget democracy. If fundamentalism takes root, it will be a dark age for the region for many, many decades.

Farid Ayari in conversation with Chris Lydon in Tunis, November 10, 2012.

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  • Carl

    Hello Chris, An extraordinary interview…Farida Ayari is an orchestra of knowledge and understanding, and you were the maestro of minimal and exacting questions.
    Who is the soloist singing at the close?
    Many thanks,

  • chris

    Thank you, Carl. There’s a ring of authority in the woman’s testimony, for sure. The music at the end is by Armada Bizerta and its available on youtube. The band is a sort of “We are the World” coalition of artists who fed and/or accompanied the uprising of 2011. and it included our guy Yasser Jradi.

  • Potter

    She was a pleasure to hear, a wise and learned progressive voice. I knew nothing about Tunisia, past or present.

    PHOSPHATE!– I tried several times to hear that word and could not, all the while wondering what that other commodity was that was so important in the region.

    Also- Arabs are the invaders here- Berbers the native tribe. We are all invaders.

    About revolution- she speaks of evolution..,,longer, deeper.

    There seems to be a healthy number of political parties in Tunisia.

    She feels that there is no moderate Islamist. Maybe by definition Islamism is not moderation, but fundamentalism. But there are moderate Muslims, we know. And it is true we have fundamentalists in every religion, including here. They are entitled to their beliefs, but not to the imposition of them. To protect democracy, this all us lovers of freedom of conscience have to guard against.

    It was so reassuring to hear this one wise ( and female) voice. She reminds me of some of the more mature women you spoke with in Pakistan.

    Chris you are in an interesting place at the moment—things blowing up in Israel-Palestine… and you are heading towards Egypt. I wonder what you are hearing.

    Thank you…

  • Potter

    And yes thank you for the music!! After searching I did find that fabulous, haunting woman’s voice, a very Middle Eastern sound, gets to me. Never mind the rap:

    Enti El Sout