Tunisia: feminist, rapper icons for left opposition
More than 40,000 marched yon Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly Aug. 6 to demand the resignation of the government, with progress towards a new constitution stalled. The elected body has suspended its work until the Islamist-led administration and secular opposition open negotiations over the stalemate sparked by last month's slaying of leading left-opposition figure Mohamed Brahmi. (BBC News, Aug. 6; AFP, Aug. 7) Responding to an obvious question from Al Jazeera, Walid Bennani, vice president of the ruling Ennahda party, said: "There's no coup d'etat in Tunisia. There’s an opposition party that wants to dissolve the government. The opposition...wants to repeat the Egyptian scenario. That can't happen." (Al Jazeera, Aug. 8)
Two fighters on the cultural front have become icons for the opposition movement. One is Femen activist Amina Sboui (AKA Amina Tyler), who stirred outrage among the Islamists by posting topless pictures of herself on the Internet earlier this year. She was arrested at a protest in May on the dubious charge of possessing an "inflammatory device" (pepper spray, apparently), and is now also being charged with "indecency" (presumably in regard to her online protest), as well as "belonging to a criminal organization" (Femen?), "undermining public morals," and the completely mysterious charge of "desecrating a cemetery." Additionally, while held in prison for two months after her arrest, she evidently tried to stop a guard from beating a fellow inmate, thereby earning two new charges: "insulting a civil servant in the exercise of his duty" and "defamation of a civil servant." She was released pending trial after a protest campaign on her behalf, but may face a prison term of up to eight years. Ominously, her trial has just opened in Kairouan, Tunisia's most conservative city. Hundreds of Islamist protesters have gathered outside the court, chanting slogans accusing her of blasphemy. (AFP, Tunisia Live, Aug. 1; AP, July 22; France24, Voice of Russia, May 31)
The second popular hero is young rap artist Ala Yacoubi AKA "Weld El 15," who was sentenced to two years imprisonment in June for a song and video he recorded. He was freed last month after being granted a six-month suspended sentence to appeal his conviction. In his song "The Police are Dogs," he raps: "Police, magistrates, I'm here to tell you one thing, you dogs; I'll kill a policeman instead of a sheep; Give me a gun I'll shoot them." Fans and fellow rappers jammed the courtroom at the hearing where he was granted his suspended sentence, and cheered in celebration, chanting "Freedom for Weld El 15!" But a fracas ensued, in which three were arrested.
Yacoubi's supporters point out that rappers, who were heros of Tunisia's revolution—including for uninhibited expressions of outrage at police corruption and brutality—are now being persecuted again by the new government. Asma Labidi, a young blogger and activist, wrote: "This is a trial for freedom of expression and the revolution... This is the biggest proof that the Police State is coming back and is hitting real hard. The trial of Weld El 15 is a trial of all those who said no to the repressive regime." (Tunis Times, July 23; BBC News, July 2)
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