top of page

Tunisia - The politics (2012-2013)

The year 2012 - 2013 happened to be a pivotal year in the politics of post-revolution Tunisia. The islamist party Ennahdha (the revival) won the legislative elections in October 2011, and came in first in the polls, with close to 30 percent of the popular vote. There then followed an ugly transformation of the country whose most obvious and nefarious effects were halted in the summer of 2013, with a popular and well-tempered "uprising", referred to as the "sit-in of the exodus" (sit-in errahil in arabic, where sit-in had become part of the post revolution vocabulary). Manifestations of this catastrophic period included political violence, terrorism, and a rampant radicalisation of Tunisian society. Some of these paintings are reflections of (or reflexions on) that.



UGTT (Union Générale des Travailleurs Tunisiens) is the dominant workers' union in Tunisia. It played a major role during Tunisia's struggle for independence (can't really call it "war"). Bourguiba's strategy, in addition to purely political action, was to set-up various unions which were 



One cannot spend anytime anywhere where one has roots, and not be invited to a wedding or two. This is more so in Tunisia where the concept of extended family is deliciously literal. But what stood out in 2012-2013 in my mind are two funerals: that of Chokri Belaid, a leader of the leftist movement "Front Populaire", on February 6th, 2013, and Mohammed Brahmi, the leader a small component of the "Front Populaire" (harakat Ecchaab, or "Movement of the People", which is a Tunisian baathist party). All fingers pointed to the islamist party Ennahdha and its satellite organizations. Click on the picture for more on the politics that year.



Which side of the islamic scarf debate are you on? Too complex a subject to address it as a footnote to an amateur watercolour. But let us that I had plenty of oppunity to think about that year. Opportunity because I was witnessing what felt like a "before my eyes" transformation of Tunisian society. Whereas a couple of years later, women were ostracized in the public sector  for wearing ostentatious symbols of islamism (since Ennahdha had been an opposition party to the various governments Tunisia had prior to 2011), now wearing a scarf meant that you are "close to the governing party" (proche du pouvoir). Whereas a couple of years earlier, wearing the afghan garb with a long beard landed you in jail, back in 2013, if you were a street vendor without a license, you WORE afghan-style clothes to NOT be bothered by police. I had time because I was on sabbatical. You will have to select the button below to see the full series and the message behind it



There are two ways to approach social phenomena that you don't like: 1) you try to understand them within the context of your values and frames of reference, and probably end up dismissing them, or 2) try to put yourself in other people's shoes, and keep an open mind, at the risk of forgetting your values. Observers--and islamists--have been saying that there are two "Tunisias": a) coastal, educated, middle-class, secular (atheist, says Ennahdha) and westernized, and b) inland, non-educated, poor, and conservative/religious (pious, says Ennahdha). The two Tunisias never confronted each other openly prior to 2011. However, freedom of expression, combined with identity politics played by the islamists, brought the two camps in clear contrast, and even hostility. But I come from a middle class family with humble roots from a small town, and thus, my family and childhood friends come both Tunisias. I know what those outward differences look from the inside. Thus, I try to understand, but without refraining from judging :-)

bottom of page