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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Whose side are we on in Tunisia?

So can anyone explain to me why boundary-pushing feminists and incendiary rappers are our heroes at home but become insidious agents of imperialism in Tunisia? I keep getting confused here... Freedom for Phoenix Feeley, but Amina Sboui is an imperialist dupe who got what was coming to her? Really?

Amina renounces Femen

Amina Sboui announced Aug. 20 that she has left Femen. "I do not want my name to be associated with an Islamophobic organization," she told Huffington Post Maghreb. "I did not appreciate the action taken by the girls shouting 'Amina Akbar, Femen Akbar' in front of the Tunisian embassy in Paris."

We are told that Amina also criticized "the burning of the black Tawhid flag, which affirms the oneness of God, in front of a mosque in Paris." She said: "That offends many Muslims and many friends of mine. We must respect everyone's religion," she added. 

Femen leader Inna Shevchenko struck back, accusing Sboui of "betraying the thousands of women in several countries who undressed to support her during the Free Amina campaign." Paris-based Shevchenko told French daily Liberation: "It's thanks to this campaign that Amina is out of prison." But Sboui told the Huffington Post that some of Femen's actions had "aggravated" her case. (DPA, AFP)

This might be a tactically wise move on Amina's part not only from the standpoint of her case but of the general climate in Tunisia. But even if we view it as a capitulation, we wonder if it has ocurred to Shevchenko what kind of pressure Amina might be under to make such a statement. Chill out, Inna.

We're also unclear about what is refered to as the "Tawhid flag." If this is the black flag flown by armed jihadists in Syria and in Mali, this might not be so innocent (though burning it might also not be the most politic tactic...)