When I wrote my article a week ago today regarding the protests in Tunisia and how we can support our brothers and sisters, I would never have imagined that in just 5 days from that article Ben Ali would have to flee the country, and all praises to Allah(Swt) for this, who answered my dua’ and I am sure the dua’ of millions. Here was Ben Ali, Tyrant of the region ( a title which is well earned in such an area of despots ), forced to flee with his hangers-on to, as it turned out , Saudi Arabia. I thought it was important for not only myself, but also perhaps the two people that actually read my scrawls, to reflect on what we’ve learnt not only about Tunisia, but also about the capitalist governments and of course their puppets in the region, and perhaps most worringly about ourselves.
I’d like to initially focus on the achievements of the Tunisian people. For it was their achievement and their achievement alone. We can retrospectively speculate upon the power of twitter, wikileaks and all the other social media, as well as to convince ourselves that after 2 decades of ignoring them we suddenly influenced them with changing our avatar, but to do so is to miss the point. Youtube has been banned from Tunisia for years, as well as any semblance of a “free” press that would report revelations such as wikileaks or twitter updates. It could be argued that facebook was accessible in the region, however anything more seditious than reaching level 10 in Farmville would result in the account owner being questioned and their account closed ( though not before Tunisian associates were also recorded). Instead, I would like to think that the Tunisian people did this themselves, pushed to the limit from decades of ruthless oppression, facing a monolithic big brother state but refusing to take it. It is impossible to comprehend fully how subjugated you must have to be to walk down a boulevard shouting against a regime when you know that if it fails then you and your family face the rest of your years in a medieval dungeon.
And what dungeons they were, and indeed still are. Institutions of state rape, torture and isolation. A few quotes from what happened to dissidents from the words of testimony that I have received were enough for me to feel absolute euphoria when I read that prisoners had escaped. I can’t possibly understand the joy that these inmates would have felt. I know of one inmate who was serving a 47 year sentence for the crime of fighting in the Bosnian War, and yet another who lost his sight in prison.
However, a lot of what was going on in Tunisia is perhaps a shock to us now. Only now do we read of lists being kept of who was to be visited for attending the masjid or wearing a niqab. Protests in the past where police would open fire on demonstrators without a moments hesitation. Everything someone said on the phone or on their email recorded and used against them. Perhaps we didn’t see this because we were a part of it. The budget holidays, 5 star hotels, great beaches, were all carefully cultivated by the Tunisian regime to provide Ben Ali and his pirate family with hard currency. This hard currency now safely tucked away in French and Swiss banks, as well as the 1.5 tonnes of Gold which he took with him on the flight to Saudi Arabia.
Which perhaps brings us onto the role of the capitalist governments in the Tunisian peoples repression. As of now, at least 100 political dissidents of Ben Alis regime are in various Italian prisons. Italy co-operated fully with the Tunisian government in arranging for them to be sent back, in some cases such as that of Walid Kammoun arranging for their detention, rape and torture on their return. The French government acted as advisors towards the regime, hence why Ben Ali initially tried to return to France as if they were old friends, which of course without the glare of the media and an angry Tunisian diaspora they would be. Belgium and the Netherlands also co-operated with the regime, seeking to return political dissidents to that tyrant. The United Kingdom and the United States also do not have an unblemished record, the UK at one point arranging for a “memorandum of understanding “ for Tunisian dissidents to be sent back if the political situation allowed. The United States for all their blustering about democracy and human rights now, stayed quiet and supported fully the Ben Ali regime and its torture of political opponents. Only now, when the wind is blowing a different direction, do they seek to control it.
Indeed the wind is howling at a frightening speed, and making its way all over the middle east and the maghreb region. Algeria, Libya, Egypt and Jordan have all been hit by protests, as well as Saudi Arabia for hosting the murderer of thousands. Of course, it is clear that what is often dismissed as conspiracy theory and paranoia has proven to be correct : Saudi Arabia dn the Arab regimes are not independent but instead sing exactly in tune with the capitalist powers and their wishes for the region. How else can a revolutionary state of Libya, a socialist state of Algeria, a ba’athist state of Syria, a repressive monarchy of Morocco and an allegedly “Shariah-compliant” Saudi state all suspiciously align with the wishes of the puppet masters?
Perhaps the most worring message is what I feel I’ve learnt about each other. I have read the most disgusting comments from the muslim diaspora about the Tunisian people, such as they “only rebelled because they were hungry”, as if this is not a reason. We need to move beyond just changing our facebook picture or some empty slogans and look at how we can effect real social change and come down from our ivory towers. If you don’t think the direction the people are taking is Islamic enough for you, then you need to take responsibility for it and learn about the people of that country. We need to look at the role that we all play in supporting these regimes with our hard currency, our cheap holidays, or positive spin about the regimes of Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and allowing the Palestinian issue to be manipulated and played by these regimes so the focus is on Israel and not on the tyrants. Israel cannot commit the atrocities they do without the compliance of these states, who perform an anti-semitic pantomime for naïve individuals whilst they murder and repress their own people. We need to learn more about the states that we call muslim, about their concerns and their struggles, and look at how we can help them instead of aiding the oppressors.
For my final reflection, I’d like to say how refreshing it is to see individuals on the street who are truly representative of the population and for whom their first thought is how they can remove oppression and corruption and build a better society. I would urge everyone to support the Tunisian people in their search for a free society, and to aid in the instigation of a similar wave of change across the muslim world. Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Uzbekistan, Algeria, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are just 10 dictator states that I want to see removed in my lifetime. Lets all make it so!