Tunisia is now in the grip of a protest movement that is sweeping across the country and threatening not only that particular despotic regime, but also those in the immediate area.Like a wild sandstorm this is spreading through the Maghreb, and shows no signs of abating. Sadly 21 protestors (and counting ) have lost their lives in the protests, and that total is still rising. Though Algeria has received some coverage, it can be argued that the demonstrations in Tunisia are far more brazen as that country is in the grip of a despot who even the United States has on occasion had to reign in for its wickedness. When the devil himself says “too much for me”, then you know that Ben Ali is a monster of biblical proportions. He is also a monster who claimed support of 99.52% of the population when they voted him “president for life”. I put the case this is an unsophisticated charade perpetuated by Ben Ali and his western backers.
For some of my work with helptheprisoners.org, I wrote about the prison system in Tunisia and the injustice that the brave people of that country suffer daily. Imagine a world where a word against the leader will get you 2 years in prison, and if you happened to discuss the law in the Islamic context of Shariah and Khilafah, then you can fully expect never to be seen again. Indeed, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Witness and others are full of stories of peoples wives, daughters sons and parents being horrifically abused by a regime that knows no bounds. In my contact with prisoners in Italy, they would rather spend their lives in imprisonment in Italy rather than to be returned to Tunisia. Anyone who has read about Italy’s prisons would know what a statement that is.
However away from the prisoners issue, daily life in Tunisia has become unbearable. There is no free press, all opposition parties are controlled by the state, and both tv stations are state-run by relatives of Ben Ali. Ben ali also issued a directive that anyone who criticises Tunisia in the international media will be considered “A traitor to the country”.
There is the oppression against Islam itself, with Ben Ali fearful of its tenets dealing with supporting the oppressed and supporting just rulers. The Hijab has been banned since 2006, all mosques since 1988 have been prevented from having anyone not appointed by the government leading them, mosques are open only at prayer times, police stations are built next to mosques, and so on. Imagine living as a muslim in such an environment. Even stranger when 98% of the population are muslim.
The root of most grievances has traditionally been the economy, and indeed the roots of dissent in Tunisia may play a part, though it is likely that all the factors mentioned above are playing a more significant part than commentators would like to admit. Unemployment is at 15%, however unemployment in parts of Scotland is 30%, yet I have not seen any demonstrations or protestors being shot in Glasgow. It is however the corruption and mismanagement of the economy that I believe the focus should be on. Whole state industries have been “sold” under favourable loans to Ben Ali’s cronies and in-laws, as well as the tourism deals for which Tunisia is famous, whilst the ordinary person on the street has seen inflation, prevention of their business that they’ve run for generations because they don’t have a “licence”, harassment from the police and security services, and so on. This seems to have come to a head on 17th December when a man in an act of desperation set himself on fire in protest at the police confiscating his market stall, and who knows what part that man and those zealous officers in Sidi Bouzid. Amazingly, this was repeated by another individual on 8th January.
Can we possibly imagine how far these individuals have been pushed to the point where they set themselves on fire, or protest with their faces uncovered and knowing that any picture which identifies them can get them 30 years in prison? For many this is the last throw of the dice, a struggle for liberty, for work, for justice and for an end to the oppression that they’ve suffered for decades.
But what is our role in this, the English speaking, ummah-centric muslim community of the diaspora? What practical steps can we take to help our brothers and sisters in Tunisia? I have some suggestions and would welcome more.
a. Stop Visiting
Tunisia relies on foreign support, foreign currency, and the recommendations of others. “its cheap for a reason” has never been more appropriate, as that reason is the oppression and destruction of muslims in that country. As we enjoy the sun and the stories of Carthage, millions are living in fear for their lives from a regime that knows no bounds. Withdraw your investments and take a vacation to a country that doesn’t oppress its own people. Hard to find in this day and age I know, but keep looking.
b. Circulate news about Tunisia
Let people know whats going on. Get informed yourself. There are youtube videos regarding the recent protests, paste them to your friends, family and on forums. Make the world understand that Tunisia is a country of injustice.
c. Write to the Tunisian Government, their embassies and their State media
Inform these despots that you in the west are aware of their crimes, and inform them that you will be telling others. Make sure they understand the impact that their crimes will have on their economy, by making it a life goal of yours to dissuade others from visiting or investing in that country.
d. Take part in Protests
If you are aware of any people conducting either online or offline campaigns against Tunisia, participate in them. Sign the petitions, sign the letters, attend the demonstrations, send those emails.
e. Finally, make Dua; for the protestors
The protestors will undoubtedly suffer if the regime succeeds in their crackdown, so make Dua’ to Allah(swt) that their regime fails. You can help stop Ben Ali by making dua’ against him and the other taghut that infest the muslim world like a virus, stopping the rot and sending a message to the other “leaders” that if they don’t care about the muslims, then the muslims don’t care about them.
I ask Allah(swt) to make the protests a success, to Remove Ben Ali and to give the Tunisians a just government that can be a beacon for the world to follow.