Tunisia: ‘Citadel of Arab secularism’

My sojourn in Tunisia inevitably ended up focussing to some degree on the question of the Islamist Ennahda (al-Nahda) party and the future of secularism in Tunisia. It’s a sign of how advanced the secular agenda is in Tunisia that the term is bandied about in public at all. The term al-‘ilmaniyya avoided studiously by many in the liberal intelligentsia in not only Saudi Arabia but even Egypt, where social conservatism and political Islam have interracted in complex ways since the great setback of 1967. In the former French colonial domians on North Africa the term al-la’ikiyya is generally used instead, a direct Arabization of the French laicite. Continue reading Tunisia: ‘Citadel of Arab secularism’

Thoughts on Tunisia: where it all began

I was in Tunisia for two weeks and had a chance to compare how things are moving there to the situation in Egypt. I like Tunisia and I like the Tunisian dialect, which is getting more comprehensible to me on each trip! This time I realized that a ‘y’ is added to the plural form of many verbs, so that ‘we build’ becomes nibnyu. Little realizations like that suddenly open up a lot of what you’re hearing. They don’t have the ‘k’ as a marker of the present tense that you find in Moroccan and Algerian Arabic, which eases things a bit if you’re a Mashreq Arabic speaker. Who can’t love famma and mafammash (from Classical Arabic’s thammata with the connective fa- in front) from ‘there is/isn’t’, which are just as logical, if not more so, as the feeh/mafeehfeeh/mafeesh and aku/maku of dialects to the east.  Continue reading Thoughts on Tunisia: where it all began

Tunisians nervous over slow democratic transition

By Andrew Hammond

TUNIS | Wed Jul 13, 2011 6:44am EDT

(Reuters) – Secularists hope Tunisia’s gradual approach for moving to an open political system from a police state will help box in Islamists but it has created a political and security vacuum that could end up helping them. Continue reading Tunisians nervous over slow democratic transition

FEATURE-Tunisia looks to recast ties with West after Ben Ali

By Andrew Hammond

TUNIS | Wed Jul 13, 2011 9:58am EDT

(Reuters) – – Tunisians are debating what kind of relationship they will have with Europe and the United States after an uprising this year unmasked the police state behind what was once touted in the West as an “economic miracle.” Islamists, leftists and nationalists from the major political parties agree that Tunisia should push for relations on a more equal footing with the West, for better trade arrangements and avoiding debt. Continue reading FEATURE-Tunisia looks to recast ties with West after Ben Ali

“No God” film angers Tunisian Islamists

By Andrew Hammond

TUNIS | Wed Jul 6, 2011 6:41pm IST

(Reuters) – Six months after Tunisia’s uprising, religious tension is rising over the limits of freedom of expression, as Islamists challenge the dominance of liberals in what was once a citadel of Arab secularism.

Last week several dozen men attacked a cinema in Tunis that had advertised a film publicly titled in French ‘Ni Dieu, Ni Maitre’ (No God, No Master) by Tunisian-French director Nadia El-Fani, an outspoken critic of political Islam. Continue reading “No God” film angers Tunisian Islamists

FEATURE – Tunisians take pride in ‘Arab spring’ slogans, humour

By Andrew Hammond and Tarek Amara

Friday July 1, 2011

TUNIS (Reuters) – At 7.45 am on any given day in the Tunisian capital, you might notice that drivers stuck in rush-hour traffic seem to be chortling away in unison.

On Radio Mosaic, the North African country’s most popular radio station, it’s daily sketch time when comedian Migalo ribs not just ousted Tunisian leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, but all of the Arab leaders fighting for survival in the ‘Arab Spring’. Continue reading FEATURE – Tunisians take pride in ‘Arab spring’ slogans, humour

The Obama speech: Why did he bother?

The Big Speech was rather a non-event from the perspective of most people in the region, I reckon. Obama and his administration were behind the curve when the uprisings broke out. The uprisings were troubling for them because 1. (like the Iranian Revolution in 1979) they didn’t see it coming 2. the uprisings were an entirely local affair, trumping the assumption for years that democracy would only come from outside via war (like Iraq) or US pressure (post-Iraq war Bush years until Hamas won Palestinian elections) 3. as such, the uprisings have been outside US control and have the potential produce outcomes that challenge US policy in the region. That policy is pretty straightforward in its general outlines: make the Arabs and Iran accept Israel and peace with Israel on Israeli terms, challenge Iran and other forces opposed to the terms of the Pax Americana, and ensure that oil fields in Iraq and the Gulf stay in friendly hands. Continue reading The Obama speech: Why did he bother?

Misreading the uprisings

This piece in the New Left Review tries to make sense of the Arab uprisings but falls into the trap of believing that there is no “anti-imperial” element to the movements. Perry Anderson writes:

Notable has been one further absence in the upheaval. In the most famous of all concatenations, the European 1848–49, not just two, but three fundamental kinds of demands intertwined: political, social, national. What of the last in the Arab 2011? To date, the mass movements of this year have not produced a single anti-American or even anti-Israeli demonstration. The historic discrediting of Arab nationalism with the failure of Nasserism in Egypt is no doubt one reason for this. That subsequent resistance to American imperialism came to be identified with regimes—Syria, Iran, Libya—just as repressive as those which collude with it, offering no alternative political model to them, is another. Still, it remains striking that anti-imperialism is the dog that has not—or not yet—barked in the part of the world where imperial power is most visible. Can this last? Continue reading Misreading the uprisings

Arab uprisings break the Orientalist stereotype

CAIRO, Feb 16 (Reuters) – Arab uprisings against unpopular Western-backed rulers have undercut the arguments of some Western intellectuals about passive populations who are not prepared to fight for democracy.

During the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, neoconservative cheerleaders for war who had direct access to Western policymakers said force was the only way to take down Arab dictators. A minority of Arab intellectuals agreed with them. Continue reading Arab uprisings break the Orientalist stereotype

Analysis: Arab uprisings overturn cliches on democracy

By Andrew Hammond

CAIRO | Wed Feb 16, 2011 8:42am EST

(Reuters) – Arab uprisings against unpopular Western-backed rulers have undercut the arguments of some Western intellectuals about passive populations who are not prepared to fight for democracy.

During the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, neoconservative cheerleaders for war who had direct access to Western policymakers said force was the only way to take down Arab dictators. A minority of Arab intellectuals agreed with them. Continue reading Analysis: Arab uprisings overturn cliches on democracy