On 2 June 2022, three police officers in civilian clothes knocked on my door in the Bab Souika neighborhood of Tunis, and asked me to follow them to the local police station without providing any reason. Upon my arrival at the station, my Indian passport and the temporary residence permit (carte de séjour provisoire) that I had carried with me were taken away. I was informed that the subject of my summons was a tweet I had published the day before.
President Saied Derides the Economic and Social Rights of Tunisian Women
President Kais Saied marked National Women’s Day in Tunisia on August 13 by sending his wife to make a celebratory speech in which she sang her husband’s praises. That didn’t sit well with many Tunisians who reminded her that ‘first lady’ is not a recognized function in the country.
Tunisia’s dilemma: Leadership or democracy?
It’s complicated but, obviously, the last 11 years of Tunisian history have shown that we cannot have both leadership and democracy. Indeed, Tunisia’s own version of the so-called Arab spring has been mired in muddy uncertainties. The stark degradation of social values and unprecedented illiteracy rates can only be matched by the widespread corruption which rests upon successive government failures amplified by incompetence, and sustained by complacency and ignorance.
Mr. President, we are the owners of Tunisia!
On July 4th, when we saw the first draft of the new constitution, I exonerated President Saied for such a calamity, putting the sole responsibility on the professors of constitutional law he had chosen. They were supposed to be the sources and the guarantors of the new constitution wanted by the head of state. After all, he had made us believe that he had entrusted them with the solemn mission of writing a “sacred” civil text that would guarantee Tunisia’s passage into an era of dignity and decency, in total rupture with ten years of catastrophic governance carried out by scavengers of politics, of all persuasions.
Ensuring blue growth for North Africa’s blue gold
From freshwater fisheries in the great rift lakes to tuna fisheries in the waters around North Africa, for many African states, fisheries represent a substantial contribution to GDP. Due to imperfect knowledge of fish biology, incomplete fisheries data, natural variabilities and the inherent difficulties in using models to count fish in a population, the adoption of a different approach called “harvest strategies” or “management procedures” is becoming the latest innovation in fisheries management, and a reliable way for North African countries to continue to generate this blue growth value for decades to come.
The Forest Behind the Trees: Exploring Family Violence
A notable achievement since Tunisia’s adoption of law-58 on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in 2017 is that it has broken the taboo on speaking about domestic violence. Yet, while spousal violence has received significant attention, it can be seen as representing the trees hiding the forest: family violence, and its multifaceted implications for women in their adulthood, remains a kind of family secret. It is time to shed light on this dimension of violence against women.
Marine pollution in Tunisia: Pandemic at a tipping point
You take a walk by the seaside, thirsty for the Tunisian scenery and the beauty of the azure waves brushing the strands of beach sand. Instead, the first things your eyes catch are stray plastic cups, bags, straws, and the list goes on. Marine pollution in Tunisia has always been, but only became a red flag in the past few years when international NGOs started to loudly voice their concerns about the disastrous levels reached in the Mediterranean Sea.
From De-kebabization to Halal Ban: Muslim Immigrants and Their Food Are Not Welcome in France
“Halal meat will be banned starting from July 2021!!!” This message was issued by the Great Mosques of Paris, Lyon and Evry, which criticized the French government for banning the halal method of animal slaughter. The Islamic slaughter rite – like the Kosher one – prohibits stunning before death and requires the butcher to kill the animal by swiftly slitting its throat with a single slash to the neck. The announcement received massive media coverage and had a strong impact on the French Muslim minority.
Borders live on dark bodies, even in Tunisia
On October 15, 2021, I was stopped at the Tunis airport and denied entry into Tunisia on the basis of the same piece of paper that the police in Bab Souika guaranteed as allowing me the liberty to enter and exit Tunisia – a carte de séjour provisoire [provisional residency card]. It had been a year since I had submitted my file demanding a carte de séjour; as an Indian citizen who needs a visa to enter Tunisia, I had hoped that this card would make my research in and on Tunisia easier.
Najla Bouden’s nomination: Having a Seat at the Table Doesn’t Mean You Have a Voice
I was on my treadmill exercising and watching Nicki Minaj “killing it” in one of her concerts when I saw a notification on my Facebook stating that Tunisian President Kais Saied had just nominated Ms. Najla Bouden as the new Head of Government. This would make her the first to hold such a high position in Tunisia as well as the first in the Arab world. I was excited for only a few seconds. As a Tunisian woman and a feminist who founded the association “Aswat Nisaa” to enhance women’s political participation and advocate for gender sensitive public policies, this should have been a celebratory moment! But it wasn’t for me. Why—I asked myself—am I being a joy-killer here? Am I being a “bad feminist ”?
We Experience the Facts. Tunisia is Our Country and We Live Here!
In what seems to be a confusing set of legal opinions, a number of jurists in Tunisia and elsewhere were unable to converge decisively on qualifying the nature of President Kais Saied’s decision to suspend the Tunisian parliament and sack the government on July 25, 2021. Technically sound arguments seem to be made on all sides. Saied on his part, based his decision on article 80 of the Tunisian constitution which allows the President to take exceptional measures “in the event of imminent peril,” and one can very well argue that a Parliament and a government that let 18,000 Tunisians die of Covid 19 in a year and a half are a peril already in place.
The Tunisian people continue their quest in the search of their new model
It’s funny enough that post-2011 Tunisia was dubbed “democracy startup”. Well, why not apply a benchmarked and proven model if the playbook was matured by other players? Because the Tunisian people, consciously or unconsciously, are exploring a new path, and searching for a new model. And that’s what startups are about. In my view the Tunisian people are a rare kind of country-preneurs. But where are they heading to? Let’s look back at the roadmap, to try to understand where its trajectory may lead.
Tunisia and the Obsolete Western political imaginary
On the 25th of July, Tunisia witnessed a major shake-up of the political landscape. Western “experts” could have predicted that. They were able to believe what they actually saw and heard. In their well-entrenched imaginary, something was decidedly wrong with this picture. The complexity was too much to handle for minds trained to see Tunisia, and the region as a whole, as easily knowable if not already known. No wonder many of them have rushed to cry foul.
Tragic truth about domestic violence in Tunisia
The tragic murder of a young woman by her husband has exposed the devastating failures of the authorities to protect Tunisian women from domestic violence. On 9 May, Tunisian Facebook timelines were suddenly flooded with a grim black image, bearing the words: “Her name is Refka Cherni.”
The Covid catastrophe isn’t about India being “poor”, Tunisia neither
Over last three weeks, I have been telling everyone around me that my parents in India have Covid, that they had Covid, that they continue to cough or have intense body pain. I tell them about my fears that my parents might suddenly need to go to a hospital, that there are no hospitals with vacant beds, that there are no oxygen cylinders left to keep us breathing when Covid chokes us. I tell this to distant faces I see over Zoom, to folks I run into on the streets in Tunis. Every time I am confronted with the same response: remarks about the pictures of cremations, the images of fire eating away the bodies of the dead, followed by a look of pity that I am forced to accept.
Project 1008: It takes courage to fight the current
One of the most beautiful lines ever spat in hip-hop comes from a song called « Last Supper » by D Smoke, in which he says “every kid needs a hero, I’m trying to be uncle Stan Lee.” In this context, Stan Lee represents the idea that no matter where you come from, you can make it if you put your mind to it, even when you live in a small hood in the capital of one of the tiniest countries in the world.
A Republic Unloved
When the Tunisian Republic was proclaimed on 25 July 1957, with Habib Bourguiba elected its first constituent president, long before the adoption of the constitution in 1959, the intention and spirit of the leaders were to give birth to a republican political system conferring the mandate of the head of state to the “Supreme Combatant” who had become the near-exclusive holder of power in the country. The First Republic rose up against the monarchy, and would henceforth be the regime of the new independent state. However, the people who had, according to Bourguiba, “reached a sufficient degree of maturity to assume the management of their own affairs” would first have to be guided in their choices by their zaïm-turned-raïs; liberator of the country and father of the nation. Democracy would have to wait.
A return to the police state in Tunisia ?
“There is no government, there is no state, we are the state”. These chilling words by a police officer, during a sit-in in the city of Sfax on 2 February, speak volumes about the dangerous turn of events in Tunisia in recent weeks. The latest unrest heightens risks of a return to a police state following years of shaky democratic transition which has failed to end abuses by security services and their rampant impunity for human rights violations.